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Gaborone’s strange terminology, names and features

It needs only a glance to realise how odd, eccentric and even baffling are Gaborone’s place names. And how difficult it is to find one’s way around this sometimes very strange city.

The oddity began very early. In the middle of the planned town is the main Mall. A stone’s throw away is the ‘African Mall’ which was a last minute initiative to encourage ‘African’ investment in the new town by making available plots at a considerably lower price than in the central, main Mall.

Several long standing Asian residents, not least, seized their opportunity and established business which are still there. As indeed they did in the main Mall! In that sense, both Malls are misnamed! It seems that a similar misnaming is now also occurring with the new central business district which is fast becoming as much government as it is business.

Gaborone’s first planners managed to keep government and business well apart. They set aside a central enclave which was to be used by government Ministries and Departments. That planning idea, however, was soon to succumb to commercial pressures and to diplomatic need but in general, the idea worked – for a time.

With vastly increased revenues from diamonds, the civil service was first doubled in size and then doubled again and then again. The result was that Ministries and Departments repeatedly outgrew the facilities available to them and were obliged to move into areas that had been set aside for commercial development.  New Business Districts, central or otherwise, such as Fairgrounds, quickly became yet another government/business mix. Early Gaborone spawned some surprising new names such as New Canada, New Stands, Bontleng, Loss-my-cheri, or even Old and later, New Naledi whose origin is now difficult to pin down. Many of Gaborone’s names tend to come and then disappear.

One of the first to disappear was Content Farm which has become a Ministry of Agriculture depot.  The College is located in an area that was once called Sebele with its very own railway siding but this too has disappeared leaving the name to be commandeered by the Shopping Mall. Additional confusion arises from the name ‘Airport Junction Mall’ which is further from the airport road junction than the adjacent Sebele Mall.

Another name which was once well known was the Lady Liesching Clinic, now dumped, as has been  Red Square which was never a square but acquired its name from the staff members of the then USSR Embassy who were accommodated in a now demolished block of flats there. Similarly, the Nokia

Circle has disappeared into the past, the old Nokia building being replaced by a bank and the circle by an anonymous traffic light junction. Camp Primary School in the Village, however, is one institution with a particularly appropriate name having taken its name either from the British Administrative settlement there or more particularly from Plumer’s military camp. As might be expected, there were huge areas of the new town, now city, which had to invent entirely new names for itself.  Less to be expected was the substitution of an existing name for an entirely new one – as occurred when Phakalane replaced Sowen Flats.

Early, modern Gaborone began life with an Extension system but very quickly Phases and Blocks were born and residents identified their places of abode in these new, very strange terms. 

Newcomers to Gaborone would have every reason for being startled by some of its traffic junctions. When parallel roads bordering dual carriageways interconnect, the flow of traffic is always tricky.

When the traffic lights at these junctions are on the blink, it is nightmarish. Traffic junctions can be remarkably eccentric. A driver believing that he/she can logically follow a straight line when the traffic lights change may find that, doing so, would take him directly into a building or a tree. This tends to happen where a new planning area spreads outwards from an earlier one and the two road systems are incorrectly aligned. 

The North Gate Mall – Shell Service Station junction on the north-south road is one example and the No Mathata junction, another. An oddity of a different kind occurs when bad planning has resulted in minor roads, sometimes even service roads, becoming major roads.

Parking can be yet another problem either because it doesn’t exist, because its total space is inadequate or because its bays were designed for minis. Gaborone’s decision to replace its distinctive circles/roundabouts with anonymous, featureless traffic light junctions may or may not have been taken on rational grounds but it has made Gaborone into an even more featureless city than it was before.

Some of the new road junctions, as at Molapo, are extremely large and all that distinguishes one from another is their advertising boards. Advertising apart, there is nothing that distinguishes any of these junctions from the next – which is sad testimony to exceptionally, uncreative planning.

Etcetera II



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