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Place Names – Who and Why?

SANDY GRANT
Gasebalwe Seretse, in a recent Weekend Post article, sought to answer the question of someone who hadn’t a clue as to who was the Princess Marina after whom the Gaborone Hospital is named? I was surprised about this because she seems to me to be one the easiest to pin down.

As it is, I have enough of my own posers to keep Gasebalwe in business for a year or so. I am, after all, remarkably, unhappily ignorant. But that’s me. What about you, the other two million or so? Are you any better informed? But let’s make a start with the Marina category, anything that is named after British royals. The most obvious is the George V Memorial Hall in Kanye, then the Athlone Hospital in Lobatse, then the old Jubilee Hospital in Francistown, which must have been named after the jubilee of some very important person? Then there is the Pioneer border Gate which is a puzzle. Who pioneered what? And then, in a category of its own, the oncology clinic in Ext 10 in Gaborone which used to be named after Lady Liesching who opened it in 1957. Now it is called something else.

Then comes some names that I do know something about – Gaborone and Tlokweng, the Ann Adams Park in Phikwe named after a Quaker NGO adult education worker in the 1970s, Mochudi named after Motshodi, Francistown after Francis, Deborah Retief after an early missionary, Lady Mitchison School after Naomi, the clinic in Gaborone named Julia Molefhe. But after that it becomes, for me at least, a bit of a muddle.

 I haven’t a clue about the origin of the names Serowe, Molepolole, Kanye, Lobatse, Maun and Ramotswa although Alec Campbell’s invaluable listing of place names ought to help. I am blank when it comes to the major river crossings starting with McCarthy’s Rust then pushing on to Parr’s Halt, Buffels Drift, Martin’s Drift, Baines Drift, Zanzibar, Platjan and Pont Drift. Pont, I take to mean a bridge but as there never has been one there, its name is decidedly odd. Platjan is even odder because nothing exists there. There is no settlement, merely a border with the usual border offices and the national flag. Buffels Drift may be even odder because, in fact if not in theory, it no longer exists because the road that used to get there through privately owned land is now closed. And has been for some years. But who was Buffel? About the others I also haven’t much of a clue. Who was Parr and who was Martin? Baines (Thomas Baines presumably, is okay although someone might explain why the small Baines Drift settlement with police

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and so on is so distant from the river across which it is supposed to be drifting. But then who on earth was Sherwood? What happens when we come to road names? People in Francistown have been bristling for ages past about Blue Jacket street which has always seemed to me to be wonderfully idiosyncratic and a lovely change from conventional norms.

Francistown and Lobatse both have streets, Gaborone it seems to me has none. It has Roads, Crescents and cul-de-sacs but no streets. Explain that! But then what is a street and what is a road? Maybe there were streets before Independence but not afterwards. Strange. Gaborone has roads named after Jawara – that really is a trick question! – Mobuto, Marlborough, Schapera and Robinson. Robinson is presumably named after Dave Robinson the popular, according to Brian Egner, District Commissioner who was killed in a car crash in England shortly before Independence. Mobuto is particularly unfortunate for obvious reasons.

Schapera seems straight forward and deserving although, life being what it is, there are bound to be people who have never heard of him. As with Princess Marina. Shame on them. Marlborough is a puzzle all on its own. I have to assume that this is the 18th century John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough whose four-volume biography sits on my shelf.

But I haven’t the faintest idea why anyone would have found it appropriate to name a road after him anywhere in Africa. Lobatse had, or used to have streets named after Germond and Isang which is fair enough to me but I have always been baffled to know what to make of Khama 1 Street. What was his connection with Lobatse? And anyway, who was he apart from being Khama 1? Someone in Lobatse must know! And then there is this curious and very established notion that people really do need to be dead before anything can be named after them.

The idea is in many ways sensible. What happens if later research shows that they were far from being the admirable characters which was previously believed? So, let caution prevail. But then there come the exceptions to that norm. Why and how did they creep under the bar? In Gaborone, there are the Mobuto, Jawara and Kaunda roads. There is the Julia Molefhe clinic and in Mochudi, the Lady Mitchison School. Kgosi Gasebalwe, over to you.



Etcetera II

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