Often referred to as Africa’s fastest-growing city, visitors to Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, will find a comfortable, organised city that is neat and clean, and equally geared to cater for both business and leisure travellers.
The Gaborone of today is an affluent hub, offering a host of shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, cultural and business centres, nightclubs, and even a university. It is a far cry from the dusty administrative town that Gaborone started out as – from the end of the nineteenth century, until 1963, it was known as ‘Gaborone’s Village’. This small settlement boasted a railway line along with a small administrative centre that still exists in the historical area of Gaborone now known as ‘The Village’.
Initially, Botswana was known as the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland. When the country gained its independence in 1966, Gaborone, as the largest city in Botswana with close proximity to a fresh water source in the form of the Notwane River, as well as a railway line to Pretoria, was a natural choice to become the country’s capital city. The name ‘Gaborone’ literally means ‘it does not fit badly’ or ‘it is not unbecoming’. It originates from the first chief in the area, Kgosi (Chief) Gaborone, who led the Batlokwa people into the country in the late 1880s.
It was in 1964 that the building of Gaborone – as we know it today – commenced, and the task was largely completed after three years. Once the plans had been drawn up to build the city, technical experts from an array of European countries were called on to assist with the planning and building of Gaborone. It was during the Seventies, with the discovery of diamonds, that the city experienced the majority of its expansion.
Part of Gaborone’s uniqueness lies in the fact that while it offers all the modern conveniences of a contemporary city, visitors are able to gain entry into rural Africa and the accompanying wildlife areas within minutes – truly offering travellers the best of both worlds.
Accessing the city
Travelling into the city is relatively simple, with a number of international airlines flying directly into Gaborone’s international airport, Sir Seretse Khama International. These include Air France, Air Zimbabwe, SAA and BA, all of which fly to and from Johannesburg, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
In this way Gaborone is well positioned for business travel, where time is of the essence. Gaborone’s well established government, commercial and industrial centres make the city an important hub of commerce in Africa. The clearly demarcated city centre is situated between the train station and the government enclave. Conference organisers and incentive planners will be impressed by the cutting-edge facilities on offer in the city.
Moreover, Gaborone boasts a number of hotels, such as the Cresta President Hotel and the Cresta Lodge, Gaborone that are ideally suited to both business travel and conferencing. To this end, the hotels are set up with all the facilities required by today’s sophisticated business traveller, including well appointed smoking or non-smoking rooms; on-premise business centres; free Wi-Fi; 24-hour access to reception, as well as easy accessibility to the city’s major business centres.
Getting out and about in Gaborone
The city’s hub is to be found at ‘The Mall’ – a pedestrian-only area comprising Gaborone’s main street which is lined with shops, banks and local craft markets.
If you’re looking to gather information and steep yourself in the history of Gaborone, a visit to the National Museum and Art Gallery is a must. The National Museum was established over 40 years ago, and since it opened, it has been at the epicentre of the country’s cultural and artistic activities. The Museum hosts a wide array of fascinating artefacts that relate not only to Gaborone and Botswana, but also to other African countries south of the Sahara.
In 1975, the National Art Gallery opened next door to the Museum and boasts an excellent and diverse collection of art, photography and local crafts.
Staying in the world of art, a visit to the Thapong Visual Arts Centre opens doors into the world of Botswana’s young and talented art community. The Centre is housed in what used to be the Magistrate’s home, and frequent exhibitions are held to showcase the up-and-coming local talent.
A step back into the history of Gaborone would not be complete without a visit to ‘The Village’ – the area that was established in 1890 to serve as the administrative centre for Southern Bechuanaland. Housed within the village was once the area’s first post office, as well as a fort, the prison, a graveyard and the Magistrate’s home. Today, the prison still stands and the graveyard still houses the grave markers of men who lost their lives in the Anglo-Boer war.
The monument of the Three Chiefs is a must-see – a moment captured that changed the course of the country’s history. As the story goes, it was in the late 1800s that Cecil John Rhodes set his sights on Bechuanaland to form part of his British South African Company. The three senior chiefs of the area at the time (Chief Khama II of the Bangwato, Chief Sebele I of the Bakwena and Chief Bathoen I of the Bangwaketse) joined forces to travel to London to petition the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Whilst they were there, the trio was presented to Queen Victoria who lent them her support and in the same year the Bechuanaland Protectorate was established. The monument itself was sculpted and cast by North Korean artisans using photographs of the three chiefs, and was unveiled to mark the 39th anniversary of Botswana’s independence in 2005.
Of course, it’s not all about the history of the country. Gaborone’s Eco Park is well worth a visit. An educational facility, the park demonstrates simple technologies that can assist visitors to make their day-to-day interactions more eco-friendly, whilst teaching them to save money too. The Green Shop, Recycling Centre and Organic Garden form interesting components of the city’s drive to become more environmentally oriented. One of Gaborone’s more unusual claims to fame will appeal greatly to literary enthusiasts: the city is the setting for author Alexander McCall Smith’s well-loved detective series, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency and is also the home town of the series’ main character, Precious Ramotswe. Enthusiasts can take a tour to see the town through the eyes of Precious by booking a ‘Number One Ladies Detective Agency Tour’. Indeed, the series of books has brought wide acclaim to the city of Gaborone.
What would a visit to Botswana be without an opportunity to view wildlife in its natural habitat? The Gaborone Game Reserve is one of the few national parks on the continent that is situated within a city. It’s a birdwatchers dream, with an enormous array of indigenous birdlife, as well as ostrich, rhino, kudu and zebra.
Outdoor adventurers should not miss the opportunity to visit Kgale Hill – the city’s highest hill from which breathtaking views of Gaborone can be relished. An easy hour’s climb, the area is popular with picnic-makers and hikers alike, and the vivid African sunsets are a sight to behold. There is a small population of wildlife that remains in these hills – watch out in particular for the troupes of baboons that the area is known for. The recently opened Botanical Gardens offer additional walking trails as well as fauna exhibitions.
A world in one
Whether your trip is for business or pleasure, a visit to Gaborone offers a plethora of sophisticated business facilities, coupled with a rich national history and a lively tapestry of cultural activities, arts and wildlife.