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Gaborone at 60: A city built in modesty

Heart of the City: Parliament inspired by the Kgotla structure and (right) Display of Three Dikgosi at the Archives showing chiefs in England to lobby against Bechuanaland being given to British South Africa Company PICS: THALEFANG CHARLES
Exactly 60 years since the idea of the ‘Gaborones’ came about, one of the country’s oldest NGOs, The Botswana Society takes Mmegi Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES on a guided tour of the modern capital to rediscover the heritage of Gaborone

“So, how well do you know Gaborone?” Professor Fred Morton, historian and member of The Botswana Society - my guide for the day, fired a question while I was still drying the sanitiser on my hands. Without sounding overly confident, I told him that I know the city quite well. He handed me a small paper with 10 questions about Gaborone. I did not do very well with my answers. And so we started the tour to find the answers.

The first question was, “When was the modern city created?” Morton explained that Gaborone was a convenient choice for the city. In September 1960, Peter Fawcus, British Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, who was based in Mafikeng, set up a working committee to advise where the ‘permanent legislative headquarters’ should be located. Historians note that it was yet unclear that this automatically meant a new capital. It is said that nine places were considered, namely; Lobatse, Manyana, Shashe, Bokaa, Mahalapye, Dibete, Tuli Block, Francistown and Gaborone.

Morton said the committee recommended Gaborone to the Legislative Council chiefly because of the following reasons: it was tribally neutral, because it was Crown and therefore Freehold land, as it had no pre-existing colonial arrangement unlike Lobatse and Francistown. Also, it had a site for a dam and it was regarded as being reasonably central to the more populated eastern corridor.

In 1961, the Legislative Council adopted Gaborone as the Protectorate’s Permanent Legislative Headquarters and that is how the modern city was chosen.

The planners were looking to incorporate nearby farmlands such as Broadhurst, Notwane and Bonnington to become part of the new city. And that answered the second question, which sought to know what the city’s popular townships, Broadhurst, Notwane and Bonnington have in common. However, the Museum notice boards at the Bonnington Farm site erroneously cite Sechele I as the one who placed white farmers in the area as a curtain against the troublesome Transvaal boers.

Morton said the planners were very modest in their city masterplan. Some of the evidence of the modest architecture is the Office of the President, which is a relatively an unassuming three-storey building unlike palaces that other countries built for their Presidents.

“They did not want to have high rise skyscrapers and everything was constructed with a mind of being reached by foot and donkey carts,” said Morton. He further said the planners only expected the city to reach a maximum population of 20,000. But according to the 2011 census, Gaborone’s population is now well over 230,000.

A key feature in the tour was the interpretation of Three Dikgosi story that seemed to have been lost and somewhat diluted even by government officials. Botswana National Archives and Records set the record straight about the Three Dikgosi that went to meet the Queen in England. There is an installation display at the Archives telling the factual story of these dikgosi who took a long journey to defend their country from not being given to a Cecil Rhodes’ company – British South Africa Company (BSAC). The records show pictures and newspaper reports of the men while in England and meeting the Queen.

Morton also reveals that the Dikgosi did not succeed in convincing the Queen to keep them away from Rhodes. Bechuanaland only got lucky after Rhodes was implicated in the Jameson Raid, which dethroned Rhodes and allowed the country to be kept under the British Protectorate.

What is unfortunate is that at the Three Dikgosi Monument at the Central Business District (CBD), there is no information about what these Dikgosi really did. The uninspiring monument has guides that take visitors through an entire

long history of Botswana without focusing on the Dikgosi’s trip. There is actually no information about the chiefs.

“The Archives do a much better job than The Three Dikgosi Monument in explaining the role of the chiefs,” said Morton.

The Archives also helped answer one of the questions I was asked at the beginning of the tour saying, “Who is missing on the P100 note?” It is one of the answers that I correctly gave saying, Rev. William Charles Willoughby, who was cropped out from a picture of the Dikgosi appearing on the P100 note. Rev. Willoughby was a pioneering scholar who helped build modern education foundation in Botswana.

From the archives the tour moved to the three World War monuments and Botswana Defence Force (BDF) monument at the Parliament gardens. These are the monuments that tell our history as frontline states with Batswana who perished during the World Wars and liberation struggles in neighbouring states.

I also learnt the inspiration of the Parliament architecture, which its balcony resembles ‘mapako a Kgotla’. It is a major significance since the Kgotla is regarded as one of the world’s oldest democracies.

We could not tour the museum because it is under renovation and Morton said he wanted to show us the old train coach, especially how it was used to segregate against black people where Chiefs made Third Class while First and Second were reserved for whites only and economy for the rest of the black people.

A stopover at University of Botswana (UB) to showcase the original campus buildings that were built with some of the proceeds coming from Batswana contributions through Willie Seboni’s Motho–le– Motho–Kgomo project. This was a true selfless Ipelegeng project that had bigger dreams and proved Batswana’s perseverance in building their nation. Some of the buildings are still standing at UB as a testament to Batswana’s determination in the 1960s and 1970s and a crucial heritage of Gaborone city.

A surprise for me was the colonial graveyard at Village near the CTO pool. According to Morton, some of these graves are of white soldiers. Some graves date back to 1890. After living in the city for over 15 years, it was a big surprise to me that there is a graveyard from the 1800s in Gaborone. Village area has quite a lot of Gaborone’s heritage. There is Thapong Visual Arts Centre, which is said to be the former Assistant Resident Commissioner’s residence. There is also a Prison with a tower as well as Camp Primary school, which was the first school in the city. Village also has the first hotel at the Botanical Gardens and the first recreational clubs.

The Self Help Housing Agency (SHHA) gets a mention in the heritage of the city because it was employed to stop any possible slum in the city. Gaborone is one of the few capital cities in the world without a slum. The planners of the city wanted all the people of the city to lead decent lives.

At the end of the tour, we enter CBD, which Morton believes has shed the original ideals of setting up an inclusive and modest city. He argues that the CBD is inaccessible since there are no combis to transport those who cannot afford private cars and the buildings are tall and ostentatious unlike the humble three-storey structures that were initially built at government enclave. Most of the government ministries and service centres are currently relocating to these grandiose and inaccessible CBD buildings. And that is the shape of Gaborone 60 years later.

For the Gaborone Heritage tour, call The Botswana Society at +267 3919745 or email:




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