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Friday, 24 December, 1999, 17:22 GMT
Botswana not bugged by Y2K

Batswana village Rural villages are the focus of new year celebrations

If you want to escape millennium mayhem this New Year, then Gaborone could prove the perfect destination.

Reports from Botswana's captial say there are no official millennium celebrations planned for the city.

Instead, nearly 60% of Gaborone's 160,000 residents are expected to head out of town to celebrate New Year as they do every year - with their relatives in the countryside.

Most of them will be travelling hundreds of kilometres to their cattle posts - the plots of land in the rural areas where families keep their livestock throughout the year, and where family members gather for Christmas and New Year.

Gaborone Gaborone: Not a noisy city at the busiest times
Music and dancing are the backbone of the week-long Batswana festive season.

Choirs made up of family members sing in the evenings, often in competition with other family choirs from the village.

On Christmas Eve a village elder will ceremoniously slaughter a cow or goat.

Even at the busiest times, Gaborone is among the quietest of African capitals, its city centre comprising a few spotlessly clean pedestrian streets.

By the end of December, even these boulevards are all but deserted.

With four out of five Batswana living in rural districts, ties to the countryside remain strong - especially since no one in the city can claim roots going back even 40 years.

In colonial days, Bechuanaland - as it was then called - was governed from Mafikeng, which was not even part of the territory.

It was only after independence that Gaborone assumed any significance at all. So loyalty to ancestral homes remains strong.

Police presence

However, just to be on the safe side, Botswana's police force has announced it will be at full strength over the festive season to ensure a smooth progression into the new millennium.

Deputy Commissioner Edwin Batsoe said that the force has suspended all leave over the New Year period.

He pleaded with families and friends of police officers who had hoped to celebrate the festive season with their loved ones to bear with the force.

Beating the bug

And the rural revellers can be assured that their money will be safe while they are away.

The Bank of Botswana announced this week - just in time - that it is satisfied with steps taken by financial institutions to identify potential Y2K bug problems, and that all banks have safeguarded the records of their customers' accounts.

It also says the commercial banks have "adequate arrangements to meet any liquidity demands by customers".

So the cattle posts can look forward to a liquid New Year.

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