The prime heritage trails of Botswana

Staff Writer
In this week's contribution to heritage development in Botswana, I would like to take the reader through nine prime tourist destinations that provide unmatched beauty of the country's invaluable cultural and natural heritage.

This is in fact a new kid on the block at the Botswana National Museum.
It is fashioned out as branding Botswana's pristine heritage sites for tourism and posterity. The project manifests itself in the development and marketing of nine heritage trails, which blend Botswana's pristine cultural and natural heritage sites (popularly known as monuments) with traditional tourism destinations like the magnificent Okavango Delta, the famous Chobe National Park and the deceptive Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). For the first time in its history, the Botswana National Museum is faced with a mammoth challenge of showing the relevance of heritage sites in various attempts to diversify the country's tourism sector. Sustainable development and management of the 9 prestigious heritage trails illustrated below offer a succinct view of how we can all utilise our heritage resources for economic empowerment of the country's citizenry.

In last week's edition I argued that there are quite a number of existing opportunities for developing the majority of Botswana's outstanding heritage sites for tourism. I also pointed out that such strategies can only function effectively when essential services are taken to the general populace. It is necessary to mention that part of the reason why the majority of heritage sites have remained forlorn, undeveloped, unknown and sometimes lost to us, has to do with lack of decentralisation of heritage management services in the country.  The development of the nine proposed heritage trails offers a new strategy of taking essential services to the people by bringing various tourism stakeholders on board.  When you develop a heritage trail, you must have a few points to consider.  These include your target group: who is going to benefit from this heritage trail.  You may also want to consider showing tourism related services such as hospitals, camping sites, filling stations, accommodation facilities, craft centres and entertainment areas.  However, the most important thing to consider is the overall meaning or importance attached to such a heritage trail.  Questions like what makes it unique and so important and whether it is worth visiting should be considered.

With all the above questions in mind, heritage practitioners in the Botswana National Museum have developed a Master Heritage Trail that divides the country's heritage resources into nine broad regions that follow no political boundaries.  The trails are uniquely developed along existing prominent landmark features and internationally acclaimed regions.  The naming of these heritage trails follows a touristic inclined nomenclature in that we would like to retain where possible internationally recognised names of heritage sites for marketing purposes only while indigenous ones are used for official purposes.  As an example, the magnificent Gcwihaba Caves of Ngamiland are internationally recognised as Drotsky's Cave while Lekhubu is known as Kubu Island.  This strategy recognises the importance of incorporation of local community issues like naming of heritage sites, their values and usage as tourist destinations.  The map provided here shows nine broad regions, which cover the finest of the country's heritage resources.  This heritage includes the people, their traditions and cultural heritage sites which showcase our past and identity as a nation made up of a multiplicity of culturally diverse ethnic groups. In almost all the regions covered by the heritage trails, there is a traditional tourist destination which is linked with the people and their cultural heritage sites for the sole purpose of offering a complete package to the tourist.  The nine heritage trails are Greater Gaborone Heritage Trail, The Road to the North Heritage Trail, Tswapong Hills Heritage Trail, and Greater Mapungubgwe Heritage Trail in the Tuli region, Greater Francistown Heritage Trail, Makgadikgadi Pans Heritage Trail, Chobe Heritage Trail, Ngamiland Heritage Trail and the Trans Kalahari Heritage Trail. The first Heritage Trail is named Greater Gaborone Heritage Trail. It covers a

geographically diverse region which includes Kgatleng, Kweneng, Southern and South East Districts. This trail is predominantly made up of four mini trails. One of these is the Sothern Region Heritage Trail which was launched about a month ago during the World Tourism Day celebrations held at Kanye. Its prime destinations were discussed in the 11/11/11 Volume 28 No 170 of Mmegi Newspaper.  To the west of the Southern Region Trail you join the Dithubaruba Heritage Trail.  This is basically named after the ruins of long time capital of Bakwena found in the Seokomedi Hills some seven kilometres south west of Molepolole. This trail provides a rich account of the settlement record of the area from prehistoric times, David Livingstone's accounts among the Bakwena, the capturing of Kgosi Macheng of Bangwato during Ndebele attacks and the historic Ntsweng Monument.  There is also an important creation site named Lowe or Kopong Engravings found to the north of Molepolole.  Matsieng Heritage Trail is found to the north of Gaborone City.  It is named after the famous creation site of Matsieng where all Batswana people and their domestic animals are believed to have emerged from the belly of the earth through a hole, which holds sacred waters for long periods of time.  This trail links the picturesque Rasesa drive with Mochudi; the shining example of well preserved Setswana cultural traditions.   The best places to visit include the sacred Phuthadikobo Hill where Phuthadikobo Museum and a binge of Bakgatla's tangible and intangible cultural heritage is preserved.  Further west are the Modipe Hills, a sacred rain making shrine of the Bakgatla in historic times.  There are also several cultural remains of 15th century Bakgalagadi people who lived on the slopes and foot of this magnificent hill.

The Gaborone City Heritage Trail is the best starting point of exploring the Greater Gaborone Heritage Trail. This trail links historic monuments, museums and art galleries, craft centres, sporting facilities, public parks and gardens, accommodation facilities and important city landmarks such as the Government Enclave.  It is always advisable to visit the Botswana National Museum to see a display of the country's cultural and natural heritage and art exhibitions in the otherwise well known Octagon and Main Galleries.  There are historic monuments in the Village which were built in 20th Century.  Important heritage places to visit in the city include the National Botanical Garden & Herbarium in the Village, the forgotten remains of El Negro in Tsholofelo Park, The Parliament Square, Three Dikgosi Monument in New Central Business District Mall, and Bonnington Silos Open Air Museum near Grand Palm Hotel.  If you want to interact with the real Batswana people in the city, be sure to visit Old Naledi. This is a bustling township located along the Old Lobatse Road. This township remains the only potential tourism area where visitors can be shown township lifestyle in Botswana. Old Naledi is to Gaborone City what Soweto is to the Johannesburg metropolis. Local musicians, artists and the majority of polite street vendors where you get nzamela airtime in the city come predominantly from this area.

The Greater Gaborone Heritage Trail allows visitors who arrive from South Africa an opportunity to prepare themselves for a long journey to popular destinations of the country.  If you choose to drive northwards to the popular Okavango and Chobe National Park, there are seven more heritage trails worth exploring along the way.

Your journey in fact starts on yet another trail known as the Road to the North Heritage Trail.  This follows the course of the historic road used by travelers and missionaries from Molepolole through Lephephe and Shoshong and the A1 Road that is aligned to Cecil John Rhodes' crazy idea of railway line joining Cape Town and Cairo, Egypt.



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