Once proudly referred to as “Africa’s fastest growing city,” Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, has been – since its inception – continually expanding, to the point that now the sprawling urban centre of some 300 000 residents has become nearly unrecognisable from the tiny, dusty administrative town it was at the country’s independence in 1966.

From the end of the nineteenth century, until 1963, tiny ‘Gaberones’ Village, as the town was then called, consisted of only a small settlement on the railway line and a small administrative centre in the area now called ‘The Village.’ The land between both settlements was Crown land, but was used by the people of the neighbouring village of Tlokweng as a cattle grazing area.

Britain’s Bechuanaland protectorate (established in 1885) had its main administrative centre in Mafeking (now Mafikeng), in South Africa, just over the current Ramatlabama border. As plans developed for the country’s independence, it was clear it would need an administrative town within its political boundaries. Bechuanaland was the only territory in the world whose administrative centre lay outside its boundaries.

Nine possible sites were suggested: Mahalapye, Shashe, Francistown, Serowe, Artesia, Lobatse, Gaborone, Maun and a point within the Tuli Block. Gaborone was chosen because of its strategic location, its proximity to the railway line and Pretoria, its already established administrative offices, its accessibility to most of the major tribes, its non-association with any particular tribe, and most importantly, its closeness to a major water source.

The city was named after Kgosi Gaborone, leader of the Batlokwa people, who migrated from their ancestral homelands in the Magaliesberg Mountains and in 1881 settled in the Tlokweng area (then called Moshaweng). Gaborone literally means ‘it does not fit badly’ or ‘it is not unbecoming.”

Once plans for the city had been drawn up, technical experts from several European countries were brought in to assist with the planning and building of the town; and architects, artisans, supervisors and labourers were brought in from surrounding areas in Botswana, and from Southern Rhodesia.

In mid-1963, construction on the Gaborone Dam began, while work on the town itself commenced in early 1964. In eighteen months, the new capital emerged from the African bush. By the time it was completed – incidentally nearly on time – it boasted National Assembly buildings, Government office blocks, a power station, a hospital, schools, a radio station, an airfield, a telephone exchange, police stations, a post office, banks, shops, a church, a hotel, a brewery, a stadium grandstand, a dam, and more than one thousand houses.

Indeed the basic infrastructure was in place for Independence Day on 30th September 1966, when Bechuanaland became the eleventh British territory in Africa to become independent. Since then the city has grown into a modern, bustling government, commercial and industrial centre, now incorporating the neighbouring villages of Tlokweng and Mogoditshane, and with housing estates, industrial estates and financial centres radiating from its centre. Gaborone gained city status in 1986.

Twenty-first century Gaborone now boasts four, large American-style malls, replete with cinema complexes, a host of hotels, guest houses and restaurants, an international airport, a cultural centre, discos and nightclubs, a national museum and art gallery, as well as two golf courses and other sports facilities.

What makes Gaborone so unique, however, is that the visitor can enjoy all the familiar modern conveniences of home, but can gain entry into rural Africa, or wildlife areas, within minutes – having then the best of both possible worlds.

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