History of Francistown
One of Botswana’s oldest towns, Francistown was the centre of southern Africa’s ﬁrst gold rush. It came to prominence through European prospectors’ discovery and mining of gold in the region in the mid 19th century, ﬁrst at Tatitown (about Francistown 50 kilometres from Francistown), and later at Francistown itself (at Monarch Mine, recently revived).
Gold had been mined by Africans living in the region for generations before. Indeed, the wealth and prosperity which the region’s gold 18 deposits have brought stretches as far back as the 12th to 14th centuries. The city was named after the British prospector and miner Daniel Francis, who acquired prospecting licenses in 1869, eventually becoming director of the Tati Concessions Company. Francis and other prospectors often used ancient gold shafts as guiding points for their prospecting, or they simply carried on the mining which had been started in those shafts generations ago.
The city is still surrounded by old, abandoned mines. The original town was founded as a settlement near Monarch mine in 1897, consisting of only one main street lined with bustling saloons and supply stores running parallel to the railway line, which was established by British entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes as a vital link between South Africa and Britain’s northern colonies.
Location of Francistown
Situated 436 kilometres north of Gaborone, Francistown is the country’s second largest city, and an industrial and transport hub, with a railway line leading north to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The main road northwest of Francistown gives passage to Maun and the Okavango Delta, Kasane and Chobe National Park, Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Francistown is currently undergoing an economic boom, mostly due to the recent resuscitation of Gold mining; this has given new life to the property and transport sectors, with the accompanying infrastructural additions and developments. Over the years, Francistown (population approximately 115 000) has undergone continual expansion and modernisation, to the point that much of its original dusty frontier town atmosphere has disappeared. Modern malls, shops, hotels, restaurants, housing developments and industrial complexes now dominate the city, with some old, colonial buildings still to be seen in the city centre. Yet colourful, distinctively African local markets dot the city, and pleasant parks give it a user-friendly feeling. A lively nightclub scene showcases good local music and dance.
SUPA NGWAO MUSEUM
This interesting museum contains exhibitions on the culture and history of the Kalanga people, as well as a photographic exhibition on the early history of Francistown and Botswana, thus serving as an important repository of northern Botswana’s heritage. Its collection includes pottery, woodcarvings, basketry and musical instruments. Authentic, hand-made crafts can be purchased at the Museum’s Craft Shop, which supports approximately 200 craftsmen/women mostly from the surrounding areas.
The Museum also serves as information centre for Francistown and conducts guided walking tours of the city, covering most of the important historical sites.
BIRDS AND GAME BOTSWANA
An animal orphanage established by Uncharted Africa, Birds and Game Botswana has served as refuge for injured or orphaned wild animals for the past twenty years. A popular outing for local residents and a venue for school trips, it has also helped to educate the public about the country’s wildlife heritage.
TACHILA NATURE RESERVE
Established on Tati Company Land, Tachila Nature Reserve covers approximately 8 200 hectares of well-preserved natural habitat in an area adjacent to Francistown city.
Thachila’s mandate is to serve as a recreational facility for residents of and visitors to Francistown, to provide environmental education for Botswana schoolchildren, to promote wildlife and other natural resource conservation, to increase eco-tourism potential and to help diversify the largely mining dependent economy, thus creating employment opportunities. Tachila – a Kalanga name meaning ‘saviour of all living things’ – is a broad-based community project that offers natural, archaeological, historical and cultural attractions unique to Francistown and North East District.
Naturally occurring wildlife species include leopard, hyena, kudu, impala, bushbuck, steenbok, klipspringer, rock dassie and warthog. Eventually, rhino, sable and roan antelope, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and eland will be introduced.
An Iron Age, stone wall site dating back to 1450AD, Domboshaba (meaning ‘red rock’ in Kalanga) was occupied towards the end of the Great Zimbabwe period. Great Zimbabwe was an extensive kingdom centred at modern-day Masvingo, in present day Zimbabwe, which stretched into northern Botswana.
Situated in the northeast of the country, along the MasungaKalamati Road, Domboshaba contains excellent examples of cement-less, stone walling and enclosures; some have been reconstructed by the National Museum archaeologists. It was one of the ﬁrst National Monuments to be gazetted in the country – in 1938. Domboshaba is an open site (approximately 8 hectares in area) that includes several enclosures and the remains of partitions and bulkheads, the most spectacular of which is ‘Wall 28.’ This was rebuilt by archaeologists and incorporates beautifully ﬂowing courses of granite blocks built around existing boulders and trees.
The most striking features of the walls are their evenness, despite their massive width (some are 2 metres thick) and their beautiful decorative motifs and stylistic variations, both underlining the absolute precision and aesthetic considerations with which they were built. Despite the fact that no cement was used in their construction, some walls have survived intact for centuries.
Further up the hill, the ﬂoor plan of what is believed to have been a headman’s or chief’s residence can be seen. And the circular remains of houses that once dotted this community reveal earthen ﬂoors with stone edgings. Many walls have collapsed and the National Museum has prioritised this site for further restoration and development, including improved trail signage, camping and ablution facilities.
An easy return day drive from Francistown that doesn’t require four-wheel drive, Domboshaba gives entrance to one of Africa’s greatest empires, and an important cultural heritage of the nation.