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Gaborone City! What City! Pt 2

CORRESPONDENT
Gardens wanted: The author says Gaborone needs more character and green
Gone are the days when we would solely measure our city’s development by the size and height of its structures. Quite important is the need to embrace attributes that would make Gaborone a great place to live in. Sadly, for now, by this gauge, we are struggling to push the needle up. In fact, we are languishing in the negative zone. KEVIN MOKENTO* writes

Developers are normally required to reserve open spaces for greenery particularly in large-scale developments. If you were to walk around the residential estate developed by Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) in Phakalane, you would see at least three open spaces.

Add to that, the similar places scattered all over Gaborone. Can one of the decently sized spaces be dedicated to a proper park? Well-maintained parks are a common feature in progressive cities. And some of them are free for all.

A few examples are in order. The Grand Central Park in New York City, St. James Park opposite the Buckingham Palace in London, Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Ballantyne Park in Harare and James and Ethel Gray Park in Johannesburg. As a matter of interest, did you know that Johannesburg boasts more than 2,000 parks? And please, let no one say we don’t have land. There is so much land in and around Gaborone. All that is required are visionary land administrators fired up with generous volumes of intestinal fortitude to drive change.

Community parks in different parts of Gaborone could help in fostering the spirit of social cohesion and in building strong communities. Closely aligned to this is the need to encourage walking and cycling through deliberate construction of paved paths. Apart from the apparent physical benefits of engaging in these activities, people living in communities that walk and cycle are not only conscious about preserving their natural environment but they also enjoy improved air quality, get to see each other more and talk more with each other.

They often succeed in building the spirit of togetherness, homeliness, neighbourliness and a common cultural identity. It is a well-documented fact that stronger neighbourhoods build stronger communities, and stronger communities breed stronger nations. This spirit of unity and affinity tends to bring down chances of not knowing neighbours as is common in ‘affluent suburbs’ like Extension 11, Block 10 and Phakalane.   

What about botanical gardens? Why don’t we have a proper botanical garden in Gaborone? This reminds me of two four-worded phrases once uttered by a well-experienced, but biased local football commentator. Towards the end of the match, the team he favoured was at sixes and sevens, unable to maintain ball possession and hopelessly ineffectual in penetrating the defence of the opposing side.

Clearly frustrated, in an orotund voice, the commentator lamented, “Moreetsi re a jesiwa!” A few minutes later, as his preferred team failed to rise to the occasion, out of desperation, he shamelessly shifted the blame from the players to the head referee, amplified his stentorian voice and despairingly spurted out the words, “Moreetsi re a tsiediwa!” Is that how you feel, considering the rather sorry state of Gaborone’s ‘botanical gardens?’

All the nine official cities in South Africa have botanical gardens. In fact, Johannesburg has two main ones, Walter Sisulu and Johannesburg Botanical Gardens. Even a hardly known dorpie such as Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) with a population of 110,000 has a well-developed and properly maintained 159-hectare botanical garden. If you scratched your head so hard that blood started trickling down your face, do you think you could proffer a reasonable excuse for our failure to develop a proper botanical garden in our beloved capital city?

The beauty of nature is unrivalled in its power to awaken appreciation of things that do not have intrinsic selfish value. Nature affords us an opportunity to cease thinking that the world revolves around us.

It enables us to divorce ourselves from a self-centred perspective of life and see ourselves for what we truly are; puny and not all that important in the grand scheme of the universe. The more we see nature, the more we tend to appreciate it. This will impel us to take good care of the part of the universe under our custody for the eternal benefit of posterity.

If the government’s fiscal position would not allow it to develop and run a proper botanical garden, can it at least play a facilitatory role of providing land of a suitable size and invite the private sector to take part in its development? This would no doubt contribute to the creation of sustainable job opportunities.

The current seven-hectare National Botanical Garden managed by the Botswana National Museum falls far short of what a city of Gaborone’s calibre deserves. In all senses. Sizewise and qualitywise! In case you are not aware, it is situated behind The Village. What we have there offers us a great opportunity to develop a small but world-class park. We need to find a much bigger site for a botanical garden. Again. Let no one say we don’t have land!

The first time I appreciated a planetarium was in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Since then I’ve been to two, located at Wits University in Johannesburg and Madame Tussauds in London (closed in 2006). A planetarium is not exclusively for people interested in astronomy.

It offers one an opportunity to virtually navigate the celestial part of the universe and to learn about stars, planets and other celestial phenomena. It helps one to appreciate that the sky is not home to a random constellation of stars, but it is part of a huge orderly cosmos. That such order testifies to the existence of a supreme being responsible for creation of the universe.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Paul Davies, an English physicist, writer and professor at Arizona State University in his book, ‘Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory,’ asked the question, “If nature is so ‘clever’ as to exploit mechanisms that amaze us with ingenuity, is that not persuasive evidence for the existence of intelligent design behind the universe?” He further buttressed this point in a thought-provoking op-ed published in the New York Times entitled, ‘Taking Science on Faith,’ where he wrote, “All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought that the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed.”

It is estimated that there are approximately one hundred billion stars in the earth’s Milky Way. Outside our galaxy there are millions and millions of stars. However, our universe is structured. You’ve never heard of the sun colliding with the moon, stars or planets. You may be surprised by the amazing order in the universe if you were to visit a planetarium! As a bonus, a planetarium has a way of pulling tourists and can help us answer the question that often haunts us when we host guests from foreign countries, “Where can

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I take them?”

Have you ever thought about a zoo? Our country is blessed with a plenitude of wildlife. The only problem is accessibility. Particularly for people living in the southern and south-eastern parts of the country. The closest wildlife park to Gaborone is the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, located approximately 400 kilometres north-west of Gaborone.

I remember that I had reached the ripe age of 22 when I first saw the Big Five alive. I was a student at the University of Botswana. The institution’s Wildlife Club had collaborated with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to take its members on an educational Safari Tour of the Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve. I would imagine for some of my contemporaries who were not in my privileged position, it might have taken them longer to see these animals live.

Can arrangements be made to take animals to the people through well-maintained zoos? Wouldn’t it be great to have a zoo in Gaborone! One might say, but we have the Gaborone Game Reserve and the Mokolodi Nature Reserve in the Greater Gaborone Area.

Though we appreciate what we have, you can imagine the pain of driving in these places for a long time struggling to spot animals. There are zoos in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Windhoek and further afield in New York City and Singapore. A zoo is not only meant for countries that are not blessed with a rich variety of wildlife. Young and old would benefit from the development of a zoo in Gaborone or its surroundings. Can the government avail land to the private sector for this endeavour?

Here is a nice-to-have. Do you think that a cable car to the summit of Kgale Hill can add value? Without necessarily spoiling nature, some developments can fit in with the ecosystem at the top of the hill. A souvenir shop. A restaurant. An amphitheatre for live performances. Or a picnic site. Something similar to the Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro or the Magaliesberg Mountain in Hartbeespoort.

This could be a go-to place for unwinding and enjoying breathtaking hues of blue, gold and red as the sun gloriously dips. A platform that would give city dwellers and tourists beautiful panoramic views of Gaborone. Imagine beholding the beauty of Gaborone with a bird’s-eye view from that vantage point, perched at the apex of the approximately 1,300-metre high Kgale Hill! Owing to its not so staggering height, even acrophobic compatriots might take a chance and hop into the cable car for ‘breathtaking’ scenic views.

Another nice-to-have. Allow me to indulge in fantasy just a little, for a man should never allow existing conditions to curtail his capacity to dream big. If that wasn’t true, man would never have landed on the moon and wouldn’t have developed the world wide web. As my wild mind takes control of my faculties, I boldly ask, what about a race track? Not the Formula One championship grade. But something that could be enjoyed by locals and perhaps even used for regional motor racing competitions.

We’ve done well in Mantshwabisi, barring irreversible damage caused to the environment. It would be unwise to rest on our oars though. We are far from reaching our destination. We need to keep challenging ourselves to up our game. And with a little foresightedness, ingenuity and ambition we can prevail.

We can take a cue from our neighbours to the south. Through its private sector, South Africa has invested in the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit measuring 4.5 kilometres. This 16-turn circuit has been accorded a Grade 2 racetrack status by the Federation International de l’Automobile, the governing body for motor sport. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to have something like this in or around Gaborone? Of course, to achieve a competitive return on investment, it would be in order to use such a facility for other revenue generating activities.

No doubt, the Gaborone of today is a lot different from that of the 1960s. A lot has been achieved in developing the required infrastructure and property. In the first four decades post-independence, focus was placed on the hard inanimate side of development.

And for good reason. Our tight-fisted colonial masters had deliberately turned a blind eye to the need to invest on the capital and infrastructural development of the country. They decided to leave us with a ghost town haunted by nil or negligible prospects for growth. A settlement inhabited by less than five thousand souls.

Five decades later, we are in control, and if we wish, without necessarily compromising the nation’s developmental strategy, we can infuse soft elements of humanity into our city’s developmental agenda.

I am by no means advocating for a utopian city, but for an attractive city. A city whose dwellers are humans, developers, employers, workers and metropolitans, in that pecking order. A city whose growth must be shaped by maintaining a good balance between the self-centred wants of profit-centric developers and the virtuous humanitarian needs of the majority of its inhabitants. Gone are the days when we would solely measure our city’s development by the size and height of its structures. Quite important is the need to embrace attributes that would make Gaborone a great place to live in. Sadly, for now, by this gauge, we are struggling to push the needle up. In fact, we are languishing in the negative zone.

Christopher Morley, an American journalist and author uttered a statement that we cannot pause enough and reflect upon as we carry on with our day-to-day life in Gaborone; “All cities are beautiful, but the beauty is grim.” May this never hold true of our city. Wouldn’t you say that the time is ripe for us to reflect on key socio-cultural imperatives with a view to placing these at the top of Gaborone’s developmental agenda?

Otherwise the words of the 38th vice president of the US Hubert H. Humphrey Jr. may in time haunt us, “We are in danger of making our cities places where business goes on but where life, in its real sense, is lost.”

May I conclude by unequivocally asserting that a city devoid of humanity is a city destitute of distinctiveness, social character and a sense of community identity. I’m looking forward to the time when the socio-cultural complexion of our city would have improved.  The time when you’d hopefully join me in gleefully saying, ‘Gaborone City – What a City!’ I remain optimistic. What about you?

KEVIN MOKENTO*

*Kevin Mokento is the pseudonym of a Mmegi contributor who has requested anonymity for professional reasons.



Opinion & Analysis

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