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Francis Town, a flash back to gold era

FLASHBACK: Rail spot in 1944
FLASHBACK: Rail spot in 1944

Founded in 1897 as a settlement near Monarch mine, Francistown was named after a British mining prospector, Daniel Francis.

The founding Director of Tati Land Concessions, which acquired land from Chief Lobengula, would later sell 300 lots, where the current city centre stands today.

According to historians, civilization in Botswana began in the city of Francistown.

With the mining of gold along the Tati River going back as far as the late 1800s, and starting the first South Africa gold rush in 1867, the city’s gold dust like rise is well documented.

In fact prior to Independence in 1966, Francistown was Botswana’s largest commercial centre.

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However as the country readies for its 55th Independence anniversary next Thursday, critics argue that despite the head start Botswana’s second capital, which is home to over 100 000 inhabitants has lost its shine, and is being upstaged by emerging townships like Palapye.

Former City Mayor Iqbal Ibrahim, who’s also the former President of Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM now Business Botswana) speaks with a heavy heart about the city’s dwindling fortunes.

“This was supposed to be Botswana’s commercial city. Everything was in motion from way back. Trade between the city, Zimbabwe and Zambia made it one the busiest and most productive places,” Ibrahim says

DEFIANT: Protesters at the 'No Tresspass" sign for British relay station in Francistown 1966

DEFIANT: Protesters at the ‘No Tresspass” sign for British relay station in Francistown 1966

The former Mayor attributes the decline of the city to a turn of events of 11th November 1965, which dealt a heavy blow on the city, the effects of which are still being felt today.

“The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the white Rhodesians created economic problems for Francistown,” he said.

“We had trade agreements and the city was alive, that is until trouble began in Zimbabwe and the country slapped with sanctions,” Iqbal adds with a heavy sigh.
Withe the sanctions meted out to Ian Smith in 1965, Francistown was starved of the much-needed trade.

“We could not do business with Zimbabwe because of the sanctions. Although we were open to trade with Zambia, the challenge was the Kazungula road did not exist, and goods had to go through Zimbabwe. This affected the city’s economy,” states Ibrahim

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According to Ibrahim before the Rhodesian/British standoff, Francistown had big industries that included sugar, butter, shoes, and textile industries all exporting to Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Backed into a corner, Dumela Industrial was then developed with the hope that investors, especially manufacturers would come set up in Francistown to turn the city into a regional trade hub.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work. Soon Zambia developed their own factories as every country has a right to, and Zimbabwe also blossomed.”

“Francistown was supposed to be the industrial centre but, it didn’t happen,” Ibrahim explains

Another Francistown veteran, and an advocate for the compensation of former WENELA (Witwatersrand Native Labour Association) workers Julia Mathumo feels there is very little to celebrate for Francistowners.

“Nothing much has happened in this city since 1966. The problem with my people is that we’re too timid, we don’t challenge authority and demand what’s best for the city,” fires Mathumo.
“This city is a mess. There’s nothing really to show after 55 years of independence,” she concludes

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