PALAPYE: If there is something unique about the Lotsane and Khurumela wards of Palapye, it is the many houses that are patched decoratively with shale stones or slates, setting the two wards apart from the rest of the town.
Mmegi set out to get a closer look at these amazing structures and met one elderly Kedibonye Radiakgwa in Lotsane as she and a friend sheltered from the sweltering heat on the veranda of a house in the homestead.
When the two women learnt that Mmegi wanted to discuss the slate house in their yard, they were reluctant to talk but after considerable persuasion, they relented.
"My husband and I decorated the house ourselves," Radiakgwa began. "We saw many slates lying about in our home and thought we could use them to improve our homestead."
When she first settled here, she found slates that had formed into smooth flat sheets of stones in abundance. Radiakgwa's companion, who declined to give her name, recalled that before the Palapye floods of 1995, few people used the slates to build houses and that after the floods, many did so to fortify their homes against future floods.
"As for me, I used the slates on my house long before the floods," Radiakgwa explained. "I wanted it to be strong. The type of soil that we have in Palapye is weak, so I used the slates and plaster to make the house withstand the elements."
But the concept of building houses using slates was not new to her as she had seen many stonehouses in Serowe, her native town. She said she and her husband first built a wall using mud bricks and later fortified it with cement plaster and slates. "If we had not covered the mud hut with plaster and slates, the floods that are common here could have easily eroded it away," Radiakgwa said. "But you can see that this house is still standing strong."
She has also used the flat rocks to pave the yard and pointed out that she plans to use them to build other structures in the homestead.
"Rra, these slates have been used to build anything from houses to walls in this village. A woman who has used the slates to tile her kitchen was recently shown on Btv and it looked very beautiful," Radiakgwa's friend interjected.
Both Radiakgwa and her friend were worried that people were coming from far to "steal our slates" and they believe that government should do something to protect them from such thieves. "One stranger recently hired some people to collect slates for him and he loaded them onto a large truck and carried them away. If we are not careful, they will soon be depleted," Radiakgwa's friend complained.
The two women noted that the slates are so important to the Palapye community that both the coral of the main Kgotla and gazebo are built of them.
According to one of Palapye's most prominent citizens, the geologist Comfort Molosiwa, who people use the slates because they are both beautiful and durable. However, he warns the people of Palapye against using mud to plaster the slates on to the walls.
"Mud does not act as a good adhesive, and this might lead to the structures collapsing and injuring people in the process," he said.
Molosiwa added that storehouses are not unique to Palapye as there are many such houses in mountainous places in countries like South Africa and Lesotho.