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If Gaborone were not the capital

There were nine possible places originally identified to be the site of Botswana’s capital city when its development was first mooted. Staff Writer, THALEFANG CHARLES, explores the shortlist of places that lost out in the race to become Bechuanaland’s legislative headquarters

In September 1960 Peter Fawcus, the British Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, set up a committee to advise where the ‘permanent legislative headquarters’ (it was yet to be understood that this automatically meant a new capital) should be located.

The following year, nine places were considered, namely, Lobatse, Manyana, Shashe, Bokaa, Mahalapye, Dibete, Tuli Block, Francistown and Gaborone. The committee recommended Gaborone to the Legislative Council.

Historian Sandy Grant writes in his book, Botswana And It’s Natural Heritage: “In 1961, the Legislative Council recommended that Gaborone be the site for the new capital because it was tribally neutral, because it was Crown and therefore freehold land, because it had a site for a dam and because it was regarded as being reasonably central to the more populated eastern corridor.”

So Gaborone was the site of convenience. Often, visitors ask, “What is the soul of Gaborone?” Most ‘Gabs’ residents scratch their heads and think hard before coming up with all sorts of weird suggestions that they adequately answer the question.

Last week Grant said he had found Gabs’ soul. “The trees,” he said.

We are now desperately in search of Gaborone’s soul. Nonetheless, this is a very young city: At 54 years, Gabs is like a teenager who reached puberty late and is still discovering herself.

But what would have happened had the committee been a little more adventurous in choosing the city’s location.



Lobatse is perched on the hills. It is the only town in the greater Kgalagadi area blessed with so many hills. A capital housed in Lobatse could have created a city like Kigali in Rwanda. The rush for land could have led residents to build beautiful houses on the hilltops. Lobatse also would have been convenient because it is not far from Mafeking where the legislature capital used to sit.



The city would have been built on a Botswana shrine next to Dimawe Hills. This is the spot where the birth of this country can be traced from. It was here in 1852 that Kgosi Sechele, also known as Ramokonopi, pelted the Groot Marico Boers with a cannon defending his territory. We could have built a city next to that MmaSebele cave where the Basarwa left timeless ink on rocks during their rituals for hunting and rain. A city in a sacred place along the perennial Kolobeng River would indeed have been beautiful. Also Manyana rolls nicely off the

tongue. The defiant spirit of Sechele’s army would have given the city the soul that is very much lacking in Gaborone.



The small hills and Metsimotlhabe River could have made it an agreeable capital. Bokaa is actually the north gate of Gaborone. Driving in from the north on the Western Bypass, one first sees the majestic views of Gaborone when passing the Bokaa Hills. From there, Kgale Hill reluctantly rises from the flat plains embossed with illuminating city lights, if you arrive just after dusk.



I have never really understood what the fuss with Dibete is all about. Had the capital been situated here, the city would have been a huge bore. Dibete does not have a river or a hill that could inspire a site for a city. I still wonder why people chose to live there and how it even made it on the capital city shortlist.



Mafia, as its fans affectionately call it, would have been another city with a big dry river running through it. The landscape is not inspiring, but it could have made a beautiful city. Mahalapye is located along the Tropic of Capricorn so it would have been a cool site for visitors, especially in December when the midday shadows disappear.



A massive river that is dry most of the year would have been the soul of the city. The city dwellers would have had tonnes of fun playing on the river sand. And the spectacle of the river flooding during the rain seasons would have been a major attraction for visitors.



This would have been another uninspiring capital, in my view. I think the goldfields of Tati inspired its inclusion into the shortlist. Even the name takes away the pride that Batswana are known for.


Tuli Block

This is the furthest place to make the shortlist and this is because it really deserved to be a city. If the committee was adventurous and wanted the new republic to have a city with character, Tuli Block would have been that city.


Of course we would not have used the name ‘Tuli Block’. Imagine the capital wrapped around the beautiful sensual Matshekge Hills and overlooking the Motloutse River.

The city would have grown to the point where Motloutse pours into the mighty Limpopo River. The rugged rocky landscape of the area would have given the city character and soul that we are missing in Gaborone.




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