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Gaborone - When Were the Errors Really Made? (2)

It does appear that little importance was given by the Legislative Council to the availability of the largely unutilized Crown Reserve in Gaborone which could be immediately available as the site of the new capital.

The  exception was Seretse for whom a neutral, non-tribal, non-racial site was an imperative. 

Evidently, he did not take seriously the claims that tribal leaders (such as himself) would happily make land available for the new capital were this to be required. Similarly, the availability of the Gaborone Crown Reserve would have been of great appeal to the invariably parsimonious British Government.

 It is surprising to me that anyone should assume that the original plan for the new Gaborone, or indeed any subsequent plan, was designed to put a limitation on growth.

The one and only exception to this norm would have been if the new Gaborone was designed along the lines of the famous British Garden cities. This, as a government town, however, was never a possibility. Nevertheless, I suspect, that this notion stems from the difficulty today of understanding why the planners were incapable of envisaging a new capital town of no more than 20,000 people.  But from where might have a larger population, say 40,000, have come? The Administration may have under estimated the draw that such a huge  investment would have for so many people in a drought stricken country where there was only minimal hope of employment.

But jobseekers or squatters would not have been included in any population projection, it being worthy of note that the 1971 plan assumed that Old Naledi would be cleared!  Perhaps Lobatse can be used to help illustrate the difficulties involved in projecting future population figures because who in 1963/4 could have imagined that its population today would be no more than 30,000?

Fast forwarding those particular arguments to today should lead us to conclude that the really significant mistakes about Gaborone were made after  the drying up of the dam in 1983, not in 1963/4. In 1983, when the population was around 70,000, it should have been realised that whilst the Notwane River was, mostly, able to support a town of 20-30,000 as originally planned, it could never meet the needs of an increasingly affluent population of over 100,000 people who were swimming and washing cars. (Wikipedia)  Whilst it was probably too early then to realise the significance of climate change, it should have been a doddle to foresee that with revenue from diamonds being increasingly invested in Gaborone, the town’s water needs would multiply dramatically.

Astonishingly, it was assumed

that the Notwane River would always be able to deliver all that was needed. All that was required, therefore, was an increase in the height and capacity of the dam!

At the same time, key factors which were unknown to the decision makers in 1963/4 had become abundantly clear in 1983 and with it a need to adopt totally new policies.  This never happened.  Instead, Gaborone became a classic parasite town, ruining its immediate physical environment, utilising at minimal cost its local resources and being indifferent to the need for careful land management.

Unintentionally, therefore, modern Gaborone has contrived to replicate the patterns of the past when Tswana settlements destroyed the environment and then moved elsewhere. Today’s Gaborone, however, has no option but to remain where it is.

Again very curiously, modern Gaborone has also replicated the past with its commitment to low density land use.

The contrast between the way that land is used in the CBD by the government and by private investors is astonishing.

The one, acutely aware of the cost of land, builds vertically the other, unconcerned about cost, builds horizontally. The new High Court spreads itself lavishly across numerous high cost plots, whilst the owners of the adjacent privately owned twin towers keep their land holdings to a minimum.

 As with many others, I have long assumed that Gaborone’s further growth must be curtailed and development directed towards Francistown, Palapye, Phikwe and Mahalapye. Should any of these places also be made the country’s new capital, being closer to significant water resources? To me, it is inconceivable.

It is my personal conviction that responsibility for Gaborone’s very real problems today are unrelated to the decision made fifty or so years ago when it was agreed that Gaborone should be the site of the new capital.

I believe, in contrast, that those problems are the direct result of the government’s failure to grasp that with Gaborone space had to be carefully managed and growth to be tightly knit. Instead it tolerated lethargic planning and ended up, unsurprisingly with a city characterised by incoherent sprawl. This would never have happened if there had been an understanding that its growth would always be constrained by the area in which it was supposedly confined. In contrast, policy was predicated on the assumption that land would always be available whenever it was required.

Etcetera II

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