If you’re planning a visit to Botswana, a stop in Francistown will guarantee an authentic experience of the country’s history and culture. As Botswana’s second largest city, Francistown is often described as the capital of the North and is an ideal stopover if you’re planning a visit to Kasane, Maun or Victoria Falls.
Located at the confluence of the Tati and Inchwe Rivers, Francistown started out as a settlement when the Ndebele tribe colonised the area on their way to Bulawayo in 1830. In 1867 the Southern African Gold Rush began when German-born Karl Mauch discovered gold on the banks of the Tati River. The town as it is known today was established in 1897 as a settlement near the Monarch Mine. It was named for Daniel Francis, the director of the Tati Concessions Company, an organisation that owned most the land in the area. Francis arrived in Francistown in search of gold and, en route to Kimberly, returning many years later to negotiate mining rights with the reigning Ndelbele King and subsequently laying out the town. With the Monarch Mine being one of many in the area, it was believed that Francistown would show rapid growth. In the early days, visitors to Francistown would find one main street and a railway line, on which was situated various company headquarters, hotels, shops and banks. Today the town’s main street still exists and is known as Tainton Avenue. Because Francistown was considered as the centre of Southern Africa’s first gold rush, there are many old and abandoned mines in the area.
Francistown’s main road to the Northwest gives passage to Maun and the Okavango Delta, as well as Kasane, Chobe National Park, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls, which makes it a popular en route stop. However, in its own right the city is currently undergoing an economic boom due to the resuscitation of the gold mining industry, as well as new growth in the property and transport sectors which have made for exciting additions to the existing infrastructure, and guests can certainly find enough to keep them busy while they’re in town.
One of the largest tourist attractions in the area is the SupaNgwao Museum. The museum is housed in a 100-year-old government camp, which includes a prison and police canteen. SupaNgwao means to ‘show culture’ in Setswana and that is exactly what the museum does: providing visitors with a glimpse into the heritage and history of Francistown and its surrounds, as well as exhibiting local arts and crafts such as pottery, basketry and wood carving and other temporary exhibitions. The museum’s craft shop supports approximately 200 local craftspeople from the surrounding areas and also serves as the town’s information centre. Moreover, it also conducts walking tours that take guests to the most important historical sites in Francistown.
Tachila Nature Reserve is located 5km from central Francistown on an Old Tati Concessions Company Farm. Tachila, meaning ‘saviour of all living things’, has been established to preserve the area’s natural and historical heritage, despite the rapid growth taking place in the city itself. Not only does Tachila provide practical environmental education to the residents of Francistown, it also serves as a recreational facility where wildlife and other natural resource conservation is promoted. It’s also Francistown’s answer to the growing trend of eco-tourism and provides a significant source of job creation in the area. Guests to the reserve will find a restaurant, bar and lodge as well as a public campsite. Wildlife and historical walks are hosted, as well as game drives, workshops and informative talks. Going forward, various game species will be re-introduced to Tachila. Some rare and endangered species such as rhino and roan and sable antelope will also be introduced to sustain the area’s biodiversity and to increase the reserve’s conservation range.
Nature lovers will appreciate a visit to Birds and Game Botswana, which is animal orphanage that not only cares for orphaned wildlife, but also aims to educate the community about wildlife heritage. Francistown itself has a broad range of naturally occurring wildlife, including leopard, hyena, kudu and impala, with plans to increase their numbers in the area.
A thirst for local culture can be quenched at various colourful African crafts markets that dot the city, giving visitors the opportunity to interact with the local community and enjoy the market shopping experience.
Indeed, with a host of activities including birdwatching, game drives, shopping for arts and crafts as well as museum visits and a strong focus on historical and archaeological tourism, even the briefest of stopovers in Francistown makes for a rewarding experience.