Mmegi Online :: Catholic bishops identify sunken Gaborone Dam church
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Tuesday 16 October 2018, 17:21 pm.
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Catholic bishops identify sunken Gaborone Dam church

Two of the Roman Catholic Church’s most senior office-bearers in the country say the ruins of a sprawling compound found in the receding waters of Gaborone Dam are an 86-year-old agricultural training school and church.
By Mbongeni Mguni Fri 12 Dec 2014, 13:32 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Catholic bishops identify sunken Gaborone Dam church








The compound, according to Bishop Emeritus Boniface Setlalekgosi, was called Forrest Hill and comprised a small church, livestock kraals and other structures related to agriculture. The compound – located on the eastern banks of the Gaborone Dam and now clearly visible due to receding waters – caused local excitement when Mmegi ran the story a fortnight ago. Earlier this year, members of the Gaborone Yacht Club began noticing brick and mortar patterns around the eastern banks, which in later months could be clearly seen as an altar.

As the water declined below six percent, a compound with several structures clearly came into bold relief, triggering curiosity as well as the attention of the Department of National Museum Monuments and Art Gallery.

On Wednesday, Setlalekgosi revealed that as a young man in the 1940s, he enjoyed oranges from the sunken compound, when it was a sprawling, lively agricultural training centre with a ‘dozen or so’ students.

Setlalekgosi was the Roman Catholic bishop for close to 30 years, before retiring in 2009.

“There was a small church there and structures for agricultural training as well,” he recalled during an interview at his residence at St Joseph’s College, adding that, “from its establishment, it ran as a training institution only until the late 1930s, then remained as an orchard filled with oranges for the latter years”. Bishop Valentine Seane, the Church’s current top office-bearer, added: “What you see there (at the Dam) is the real altar.  There were orchards and even a few houses for priests.

“That area was very famous for the oranges it produced. There was also livestock being reared such as cattle and pigs.”

According to the Bishop Emeritus, Forrest Hill had its origins when Bishop Herman Meysing of the Catholic Church in Kimberly secured the freehold Kgale Farm in 1927.

The Church sent a priest from Germany to introduce Catholicism in Botswana, leading to the establishment of St Joseph’s.

This priest, Father Rudolph, later left to establish Forrest Hill agricultural training institution on what would later be Gaborone Dam.

“The Bishop of Kimberley sent one priest, then another to establish St Joseph’s.  When the second came, the first decided he would move further up the farm and establish a training institute.

“The government came in the later years and asked for that land

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in order to establish Gaborone Dam. The Church gave it over to government for the common good. “There was a financial consideration; it was a big area taken,” said Setlalekgosi.

The dam’s establishment, starting in 1963, would not only result in the abandonment of Forrest Hill, but also later lead to the closure of the Old Lobatse Road, which it was felt ran too close to the strategic asset. Forrest Hill would sink beneath the waters as Notwane River filled the new dam and was forgotten by the turn of the century. The Church paid homage to the sunken institution by establishing the Forrest Hill Passionist Meditation Centre near what is now Commerce Park.

Seane said the Church purchased the area known as Kgale Farm after local chiefs denied the new missionaries land to establish their faith.

“The London Missionary School was already there and nearly all the chiefs refused,” he said.

“When the Catholics came, the only place they could settle was private or freehold land and that’s why they bought the land called Kgale Farm.

“The first tribe to allow the Roman Catholics to establish were the Bamalete in 1935 and you can see how many years had passed. That is why the Church is very visible in Ramotswa with a primary school, clinics and other facilities.”

From the early years in Kgale Farm, the Roman Catholic Church grew to Lobatse then Ramotswa, before later establishing in Francistown.

From a congregation numbering 400 at Kgale Farm in 1935, the Church now numbers its congregation among the tens of thousands across the country.

For both bishops, the discovery at Gaborone Dam, elicits memories of the early missionary days. “Some priests went to the site recently,” said Seane.

“I also did, but from a distance.”

Bishop Emeritus Setlalekgosi is yet to visit the old site where he picked oranges as a youngster. However, his memory of the old Forrest Hill is as clear as day. “I went there in the early days, in the 1940s. There was a small group there at the time,” he said. The Department of National Museum Monuments and Art Gallery is reportedly aware of the ruins and is preparing to record them for posterity before Gaborone Dam’s waters return to reclaim the 86-year-old piece of history.

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