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Gaborone - The Beginning

Gaborone had its modern beginnings as a result of two related factors. First and foremost was the need for the British to establish telegraphic contact between Mahikeng, Cape Town and London with their base at Fort Motloutse near Bobonong.

The second need was to establish an operational base further south which would replace Motloutse where water supply was always a problem.

Seemingly, the British had no problem in acquiring places such as Motloutse because they were convinced that local claims to ownership and control were so tenuous that they could simply be disregarded. 

This understanding must have underlain the instructions to Col. Frederick Carrington in 1890 to identify a new site with features that were uncannily similar to those which pre-determined the choice of Gaborone as the country’s new capital 70 years later.

 Carrington was told to find somewhere in the general vicinity of Kolobeng (which had long become irrelevant by 1960), which had a reasonably secure water supply, was central and which provided the means of controlling (be accessible to) the southern Tswana tribes.

Neither in 1890 for the British nor in 1960 for the Batswana could this quest have proved to be other than routine. Gaborone then, even without the railway, was a nodal point for wagon traffic. Carrington suggested that the new British base should be situated so that it controlled what must have been a ford or drift across the Notwane River (where the old Tlokweng bridge is situated) from where roads splayed out - to the south (Mahikeng), to the west (Molepolole), the north (Mochudi), the north east (Sikwane) and the east (the Rand).

Reports at the time indicated that the new settlement would be located some distance away from the Batlokwa who had settled there a few years earlier, in 1887, and were living a few miles away to the north on the further side of the river at a place then called Moshaweng where their old kgotla can still be visited.

Current claims by the Batlokwa, and doubtless by the Bakwena, that this was their cattle post area seems to suggest that the British were obliged to negotiate terms of occupancy with either the one or the other or both before moving in. In reality, they appear to have done nothing of the sort realising that there was simply no need to do so.

In the event, the British, having fixed on their new base, didn’t hang around. Once they had taken the decision to establish Gaborone as their new Headquarters they rapidly dumped Motloutse and consolidated their resources there.

In quick

succession, they constructed a new standard model Fort and in August 1890 appointed W.H. Surmon to be Assistant Commissioner for the Protectorate to be based there.

In no time a small settlement came into existence complete with a trading store, a stop over for travellers and a regulation graveyard. In 1895, the three Dikgosi visited the U.K. and as part of a trade off agreement which staved off rule by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company, agreed to provide land for his proposed railway line through to Bulawayo. In the same year, however, Rhodes was heavily involved in the botched Jameson Raid which resulted in his humiliation, resignation as Prime Minister of the Cape and the ending of his attempts to take over the Batswana tribes.

The agreement of the three Chiefs regarding the railway line was, however, duly honoured. Sebele handed over the area of land which  stretched from near Mogoditshane to the border with South Africa.

The British surveyed it, divided it into demarcated farms and then handed it over to the BSA Company to sell to individual buyers. For obvious reasons, however, the British held on to the newly created farm which included the area it had already occupied at the Notwane River site.

By doing so it acquired for its new settlement there a de jure, as opposed to a de facto, legitimacy.

The area across the Notwane which was occupied by the Batlokwa became something of an anomaly.

Neither the BSACO nor the British Administration wished the Batlokwa to be uprooted especially during the lifetime of their respected, aged Chief, Gaborone.

A curious compromise was reached by which the tribe paid the Company an annual rent of £150 for the land it occupied.  When Gaborone died in 1933, however, the British persuaded the Company to cede its ownership there in exchange for specific mineral rights in the Central District. The area was promptly gazetted as a new ‘Native Reserve’. 

There is probably no country in the world which can feel totally at ease with its history.

This one can be no exception. Many Batlokwa being uneasy with this particular version of a complex period of history do now need to identify a career historian willing to come up with a version which accords more closely with theirs.  Debating the issue can do no harm.

Etcetera II



UDC, BDP Caucus

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