At first, I imagined that I must have made a mistake. But there it was, the banner headline of the internet Daily News stating ‘Happy 50th birthday’ with the article I sought, nevertheless dated the 4th of this month.
And the article in question? A freedom heritage walk will take place on the 7th of this month starting at Fish Keitseng’s home but without explaining where its 4.2 kilometres will end?
Or where it might stop? That is a problem with so many articles of this kind. They whet the appetite and then deny the reader the key, follow up information. But at least, Lobatse has got itself back in the news for more or less the right reasons having been distracted during the last five years or so by Milc Afric which has led everyone a merry dance with repeated claims that it was on track and will soon deliver.
In reality, it would seem that all the five years of obscuring or hiding key information has achieved, at enormous cost, is the training (sic) of an unknown number of Lobatse residents in Florida, a trip there by the elected and non-elected staff of the Council, the winning of three court cases against aggrieved Lobatse farmers and, wait for it, the recent approval by Council of milking parlour drawings! We are hopeful, said the Council spokesman, that by 2020, the project will be functioning, eight years, no less, after its supposed inception!
And then there is the promised Lobatse Leather Park with Mmegi reporting a Lobatse Town Council representative as stating that this will create 10,000 jobs (8.9.17). Oh dear. Why is that Lobatse is so unfortunate? Why is it that we are all so guillible, so ready to be sucked into buying into dream projects which promise the whole world but are, in the end, likely to provide only a special few with a significant return.
Anyway, enough of this misery. And back to Lobatse’s heritage which is repeatedly stressed but still to be delivered. I have previously argued that Lobatse should take control of its heritage rather than leaving everything to the National Museum.
It has a much better idea of what comprises its heritage. I worry about what I see as a lop-sided re-reading of its liberation story.
Never, for instance, have I heard any mention of the whites and Asians who sought refuge in Lobatse, people such as the Bernsteins and Ronald Segal – again possibly because of inadequate reporting. But every time I see Lobatse reported as a heritage centre, I gulp. Right now, its supposed heritage consists of Fish Keitseng, Mandela, Machel, the
That’s a considerable start, but certainly not enough. What about its role in the South African War? What about its role as an important railway stop? What about the trials that took place there which were of such huge importance to the country. What about the visit of the King George V1 in 1946, its role as a recruiting/ training base in the second world war, its abattoir, its provision of a home for Seretse and Ruth when they were banned from Serowe and for Russell England and other notable residents, black, white, Asian. What about its possession of two of the country’s most remarkable early Tswana settlement sites, albeit they are both on privately-owned land.
Lobatse is unlike anywhere else in the country so that this initiative must, from the beginning, take account of all those differences, not ignore them. Someone must take the lead by pulling together six or so committed individuals representing the different parts of the town. A few phone calls should be enough to establish who should make that first move. And then work out the beginnings of a plan of action without, in the beginning being over-ambitious - that can come later. One step at a time. Go for a flexible heritage centre, never a museum, and ask that the owners of one of those abandoned trading stores donate it for this specific purpose.
It could provide space for a first office. It can happen. Leepetsewe Khama, after all, did donate his Red House for the Serowe museum. Germond’s old house would make an ideal heritage centre, but being government-owned, the bureaucratic obstacles of acquiring possession would be enormous.
Think about working on a Trust Deed – there are models available. Start building up a list of interested people and business, with contact details. There are many people in Lobatse who are well aware that their town is special.
But perhaps each one is waiting for somebody else to make a move. But to wait much longer will be fatal. Change is occurring very fast, even in Lobatse where nothing is supposed to be happening. Important memories are being lost all the time as are important buildings, perhaps even street names. Please Lobatse, make a move. Don’t wait any longer. If you have a decent park, surely you can have an attractive Heritage Centre!