Mmegi Online :: Why should Lobatse be left to rot?
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Last Updated
Friday 20 September 2019, 16:30 pm.
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Why should Lobatse be left to rot?

So much has been written about the town being reduced to a state of neglected monument of colonial ruins. Most of these are buildings with edifice of antique style of architecture, serving as memorials for the town.
By Correspondent Tue 20 Sep 2016, 17:06 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Why should Lobatse be left to rot?








No reason has been given why these buildings should be abandoned or demolished.  They include among others, a once beautiful house of the then British Divisional Commissioner South, G.A. Germond and the office block of the Commonwealth Development Association, as well as the prison cell that housed ZNB radio before it became Radio Botswana at independence.

These buildings are a wealth of our historical heritage and should be preserved in their original condition to tell the story of the town and the history of the country.  If we demolish them, we will be demolishing our past.  Those which have already been demolished, should be itemised to be included in the inventory of old colonial buildings because they are in the DNA of the town, as it were.

As we celebrate our golden jubilee with the chorus of self-congratulation, we should reflect on the humble existence of the town, as the sleeping giant of our independence.  It was here in Lobatse, where the chorus of self- congratulation for independence was first sung.  But 50 years later, we have not only forgotten the chorus, but also the place where it was sung.

This neglect has made Lobatse to be a town of haunting memories.  Those who still remember its imposing beauty at independence, reminisce about its eucalyptus forest which has now been cleared and an ecstatic view of tree plantations that form a perfect boulevard in the proximity of the high court.  Thanks to G.A. Germond who planted the trees in 1956 for the opening of the high court. Old generations of Lobatse see the town better administered by the British than by the government of the day.  In its present state, nobody can believe it was once a quasi-capital of Bechuanaland that had the potential to become the capital of Botswana, but by a strange twist of things, Gaborone was selected as the capital.    This assessment is based on negative changes that the government made to the town, such as the relocation of the high court to Gaborone and the closing of the Teacher Training College (TTC).  The high court as the headquarters of the judiciary, gave the town a historical significance that it deserves.  But the changes left it without identity and businesses like Cumberland Hotel, have lost their high court customers to face a bleak future.The closing of TTC was another blow to the town because the college was providing a form of employment to local people and added value to the town as an institution of higher learning.  In fact, the school should have not been closed, but instead it should have been turned into an arts college, teaching, sculpture, drama, painting and drumming among others for purposes of reviving the town with its historical background in mind.

The state of the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) is another area of concern in the town.  The company used to cushion the effects of unemployment in the town, operating a canning and soap factories among others.  But with its downturn, compounded by the running of branches in Maun and Francistown, the company has now very little to offer to the town.  Nobody can dispute the fact that Lobatse was the BMC and the BMC was Lobatse in the beginning. However, there are reports suggesting that a planned leather factory project for the Lobatse is in the pipeline to bring life back to the town.  An official in charge of the project told me that a report for the project has been released to

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identify project managers and to conduct environmental impact assessment at the site.  The official said the P420 million project is at a preliminary stage and that information relating to the scope of the project would soon be published in local media.

The project has been a subject of debate because it had rumoured that the money for the project had been diverted to another project of national interest.  This brought back old memories in the town about the closure of the BMC leather tannery in 2006.  The reason for the closure was environmental concern and the frequent breakdowns of the plant which meant belt tightening for the residents. 

In another development, Lobatse residents had expected to benefit from the Special Economic Zone policy which was approved in 2011 to diversify the economy and export base of the country into sectors that will continue to grow after the diamonds have run out.  This did not happen and the situation remained the same because residents are not empowered to exercise due diligence for what they want.  The conspicuous neglect of the town has made it to lose its glamour and the flare of independence that it enjoyed in the 60s.  The town is on a journey from cradle to grave, as some groups involved in golden jubilee festivities do not use it as the venue of their activities.  For example, the Great Botswana Marathon did not include the town in their marathon that follows historical buildings and sites and it appears nothing has been scheduled by BOT50 to take place in the town on or before 30th September.   Historically, Lobatse is the birth place of our political parties and our democracy, as Botswana and the Gambia were the only two counties in Africa which had multi-party democracy in the late 60s.  As we celebrate this legacy, it would be inconceivable to exclude Lobatse from observing the great fanfare of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence.  The music festival and the cultural event held in the town a head of the September 30th celebrations, cannot revive old memories of the town.  

Lobatse has not only played an important role to our independence, but also to South Africa and Mozambique during their liberation struggle.  South Africa for its part is turning Fish Keitseng’s safe-house at Peleng into a national monument for hosting Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki during the struggle.  In the same vein, the Mozambican government has announced its plan to transform the Kgaboesele family house also at Peleng into a museum for hosting Samora Machel during the liberation struggle of that country.  In this connection, the Botswana government should also do its part to declare the town a heritage site.   Because of its historical background, Lobatse has a potential to be one of the country’s tourist destinations.  Like in Francistown, Lobatse should have an information center and guides to conduct guided tours of the town, covering important historical sites lulled by a sense of neglect.  This would promote the country’s tourism industry and preserve our past because if we do not learn from history, will be doomed to repeat it.  We would perhaps need a department of antiquities to help maintain colonial ruins and existing buildings which are still in their original condition.  Some of these buildings, may not be in the colonial era category, but have an overriding historical significance like the prime minister’s residence in Gaborone which later became Radio Botswana and now the Directorate of Intelligence Services.

Moreri Gabakgore

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