On The Run

A Run Down Memory Lane In Lobatse

Nestled in a valley, surrounded by several hills sits Botswana’s second oldest town, Lobatse. Over the years, it has garnered several unfortunate descriptors – neglected, forgotten, irrelevant and stagnant which is sad given its immense historical significance to the country and region. It was once a serious contender for becoming Botswana’s capital city but more significantly, it is home to the Botswana Meat Commission, the first High Court of Justice and the first referral psychiatric hospital. Many of Botswana’s successful home-grown businesses like Choppies, Motovac or Furniture Paradise trace their humble beginnings to Lobatse.

Lobatse was also the safe temporary refuge for many prominent liberation fighters including Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Sam Nujoma of Namibia – all of whom eventually became Presidents of their respective countries. For me personally, Lobatse holds a special place in my heart as it is where my parents met, where I went to primary school, where I met many life-long friends and where I learnt to ride a bike.

Feeling nostalgic, I dragged my husband 70km south of Gaborone to Lobatse for our 12km run on Sunday. We parked on Nkuruma Road in Boswelatlou where I used to live. Nkuruma is one of the first side streets as you enter Lobatse from Gaborone and is just after Botswana’s first High Court of Justice, built in 1956.The plan was to run from here, through town to Crescent School and back again. What visitors might dismiss as a timeworn town that has seen better days, I only see the streets I used to ride my bike, the homes I used to visit, the place my sister and I were caught in a rain storm, and although no longer there, I remember the location of the book shop that sold our favourite comics and the café we’d visit for freshly made samosas. So humour me today as I share my childhood town and some of its awesome history.

From Nkuruma Road we headed south into town and immediately spotted another runner across the road. His vigorous two-handed wave made us suspect there weren’t too many of us, and indeed, he was the only runner we met! The tarred side road transitioned to a paved pedestrian pathway that ran parallel to the main road. The first major sighting was the Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital on the other side of the road to our left. Growing up, this had been the Lobatse Mental Hospital but in 2010, it was transformed into a major referral psychiatric hospital named in honour of the late Italian psychiatrist specialist, Dr Giuseppe Sbrana, who was the first specialist to work at the then Lobatse Mental Hospital in 1969 and contributed significantly to the development of mental health awareness and treatment in Botswana.

Shortly after this, we came to the Athlone Hospital which was on our side of the road. Built in the late 1920s on Paul Farm, Athlone Hospital was the first ‘government’ hospital in Botswana during the colonial era, named in honour of the Earl of Athlone.

Our run was mostly flat and downhill which made for comfortable running. The air temperature was also pleasant, reminding me how hot I’d found Gaborone when we first moved there.

We ran past Trans Cash and Carry which is a huge wholesalers that started in Gaborone in 1970 with several big outlets around the country and although I didn’t find out when it was established in Lobatse, I suspect it would have been quite early on.

We continued on our way, climbing a small hill that took us to the Post Office made from reddish stone bricks. It is one of the oldest and I think prettiest post offices in the country.

From here, it was a steep descent into Lobatse’s main shopping street and as we ran down, I suddenly felt quite emotional. Many of the shops had different names but there were some that had maintained their original names, names I still recognised. At the end of the street we took a left turn to see if I could spot anything familiar and I did! The old Pakistan Trading Centre was still there but the Bangladesh Boutique next to it was now a ramshackle structure.

Opposite these buildings is the Lobatse Train Station (established in the late 1800s). We spotted an older structure with it’s colonial style roofing and next to it, a more modern building.

We proceeded on the Ramatlabama Road, passing more old-fashioned shops with residences on top as well as some dimausu on our left by the railway line. It was a stiff climb out of town to Crescent School where I started Primary School in 1988. Fun Fact – my husband grew up in Kanye, a village 45km from Lobatse and he used to commute by bus to Crescent. He also started that year and in the SAME class but we have NO recollection of each other! He moved a couple of years later so we didn’t see each other until High School in Gaborone. Originally known as the Indian School, Crescent School was opened in 1961. When I was there, it was a beautifully diverse school with children from several countries, backgrounds, cultures and faiths.

It is situated next to the mosque and we became familiar with the distinct and elegant call to prayer that would echo throughout the valley. On Fridays, school would break early to accommodate those attending mosque.

For our return leg, we continued past the mosque and residences, a mix of new and old, until we got to a well-trodden track that took us back to the main street.

There was a little more action in town, with combis (taxis) driving across the railway line and into town. But most shops were still closed and the streets were peaceful and quiet.

We spotted the old St. Mark’s Parish, Anglican Church that we couldn’t see clearly when we were on the other side of the road. It is a thatched stone structure built in 1934, hidden behind a thick vine clambering on the wrought-iron fence.

We were soon passing Botswana Meat Commission, once one of Africa’s largest abattoirs and meat-processing operations and where my mum worked for 30 years, on and off, since 1977.  From 1965, BMC had a significant impact on the economic and physical growth of Lobatse and its abattoir contributed greatly to the country’s beef export industry. In recent years, it has fallen on some tough times but at it’s peak it was exporting mass quantities of very high quality, free-range beef, most notably to the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The next stop on our return leg was the Botswana Geoscience Institute which was the Department of Geology when I lived there. The building was just the brown structure you see in front without the more modern looking building you see behind it.

It was then onto the famous Cumberland Hotel which is one of the oldest hotels in the country dating back to before independence and some believe in preparation for Lobatse potentially becoming Botswana’s capital.

We ran past the Public Library and Lobatse Secondary School, before heading for a final lap of Boswelatlou so I could show Ditiro my old playground, biking routes and my old house.

I’ve used my memory, knowledge from school, conversations with family and a few online articles to be as accurate as possible. I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic running tour, showing the rich heritage of one of Botswana’s oldest and oftentimes forgotten towns. I only lived there for a few years but such was its impact on my life that I felt such a sense of belonging as I ran through the old streets. I always say run some place new to spice up your runs. Well, this weekend, I discovered that some place new might also mean some place old. 😉

Have you ever run in the town you grew up in? If you haven’t, would you consider doing it? What interesting places have you run in recently?

I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By MileCoach Debbie RunsConfessions of a Mother RunnerRuns with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.

41 thoughts on “A Run Down Memory Lane In Lobatse

  1. I loved this tour, Shathiso! What a great idea to run in a childhood place!

    I have never heard of Lobatse. It looks fascinating – like a place from long ago where time seems to have stood still. That post office reminds me of an old English post office. And that thatched Anglican Church – you can literally feel the history!

    I would have to go back to Scotland to run in my childhood area… You have just given me an idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Catrina and yes, please run in Scotland to celebrate your childhood years!! We were a British protectorate so that would probably explain the post office looking like an old English one! That church is so pretty and I hear it is still in use – a very small chapel that must be gorgeous for intimate weddings.

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  2. I haven’t run in my old home town, I fear I would get lost! But I have run around the village where we had our holiday shack when I was a babe. And, although I have few memories of it, I feel so at home running through the villages and forests and along the coast there.

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    1. How funny that places we lived in so long ago, still have that effect on us – a sense of true belonging. Just goes to show how important and impactful our formative years are! Luckily for me, the run through town was very straightforward (and so much looked the same!) so no chance of getting lost. 🙂

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  3. This was such an interesting post–I had no idea there was so much history there! I mean, I did, but your photos from Gaborone depict a very different place–so modern! The town I grew up in was such a cute little town but has become part of the far-reaching suburban sprawl of Chicago. Kind of funny, since it is 50 miles from the big city! The growth has not been kind to the town. Anyway, I really enjoyed this post!

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    1. The biggest criticism over the last few years has been that while other towns and cities (including Gaborone) have experienced such significant development and growth over the last couple of decades, Lobatse almost seems to have stood still and some forget just how important a town it was. Extremely significant even to helping define the political landscape of our neighbouring countries. But there will need to be a lot of dedicated effort to bring it back to its former glory.

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  4. Love this post. Thanks for sharing.

    I did run a few years ago in a park near where I grew up. I don’t visit often but I’d like to explore more.

    Recently I ran in Florida. Ocean views are the best.

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  5. While I have been back to my “first” hometown, I have never run there. My family moved to Grinnell when I was in high school, so we’ve been back to the other town (a good 3-1/2 hours away, near the extreme northeast border of Iowa) for family functions. Now I want to go back (sometime) and go for a run and relive the memories 😉 Thanks for the scenic tour!

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    1. Our stories sound similar! We also left for Gaborone when I was starting High School and it took me long to consider Gaborone as home. I do consider it home now but what a feeling of belonging I had running through Lobate! So I highly recommend you run through your first hometown, those memories will come flooding back like never before!

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  6. I like the idea of running in your childhood home. I bet things that seemed really far apart or far away end up being closer now that one is a distance runner! I remember thinking my grandparents house was SO far away from mine, but it was only like 4 miles 🙂

    Great tour and post, you are lucky to have an “instagram husband” who takes great action shots!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Spot on Jessie! On some days we had to walk from school to BMC where my mum worked. Oh how we moaned over the years at the “cruelty” of it all. Well… turns out its 2.5km! The whole stretch from one end of town to the other end was about 5/6km. LOL!

      My IG husband is the best and he is not even on instagram! He is a natural behind the camera and I’m so glad he puts up with all this photo-running!

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  7. Thank you so much for taking us along on this tour – it was so interesting and i love all of the photos. I’ve never done a run in my hometown, mainly because there’s so much traffic there.

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  8. Wow wow absolutely wow… you have literally made my dreams come true with your run and blog! I could just hug you. I left Lobatse when I was 9 (now 34)…i have always wanted to go back. To see Crescent, to try understand how I could walk from school to Thema; to see the post office which I loved going le mama ( I agree with you, it’s one of the most beautiful post offices). Bathong, Cumberland is still there?!
    Thank you SO Much for this, you have truly made my day!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely LOVE this comment!!! So glad I was able to make a dream come true for you and show you Lobatse through a 2021 lens! I left when I was 11 but the town put a stamp on my heart that will forever be there. And it sounds like it is the exact same way for you!

      I used to complain all the time and always reminded my parents how they made us walk from Crescent to BMC – turns out it was only 2.5km!! I thought it was a whole lot longer!! So I hope you get back there soon to see the place that you still remember so fondly!! And I’m so happy I was able to make your day!

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  9. That is a LOT in 12km! Wow! I’ll bet this run was really fun; it can be so fun to run down memory lane.

    Before we moved my parents, when they still lived in my childhood home, I often ran from there to Vassaar College, which is a really lovely campus. I miss those runs!

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  10. This was lovely, thank you for sharing it with us! I sometimes feel funny running around the places I hung out as a student here, thinking how my student self would have been horrified at this lycra-clad runner!!

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  11. Nostalgia runs are so much fun! Sometimes sad too, when you see the things that have changed. Funny that you and your husband were in the same class when you started school with no memory of each other. One could say it was fate that you met again in high school.

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  12. Wow, this was interesting! It was a run through a town I’ve never even heard of. I loved all the memories you shared.
    Now I want to run through my childhood hometown! I would have to make a special trip so I can’t do it now… someday.

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  13. I’m from New Orleans and when I go back to visit, I tend to run from wherever I’m staying to the empty lot where the house I grew up in used to be (it got destroyed by 8 feet of flooding in Hurricane Katrina) – this sounds sad but really I found it nostalgic. Anyway, one time I did my run and lo and behold, there was a brand-new house there! That was so weird!! The exact spot I grew up in, but a brand spanking new and totally different house.

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    1. Oh, what a touching story Katie. 😔 So sorry to hear how your childhood home got destroyed. But the feelings, emotions and memories will always be there even if the house isn’t. And how weird it must have been to find a completely new house!

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  14. What a beautiful and interesting tour.

    I have never run in my home state, let alone my home town. I don’t know that my town is even remotely interesting enough for a run, although there is a summer lake area that might be good for some loops. I don’t know that I have a reason to go back there, though.

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  15. Thank you for sharing the present and past memories – and history. The scenery is amazing. I live a few miles from where I grew up, so it’s all memories everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Coco. It was so fun to run there, both sad and happy that nothing seems to have changed. Happy of course that there was still so much that I remembered; but also sad that it’s becoming more and more of a town that people don’t go to or see the need to develop!

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  16. Love this post! I grew up in Chicago so I do most of my running here. However, a few years ago my mother and I went to a cotillion and drove by the building we used to live in. The elementary school/church was gone but it still reminded me of when I used to go to school there. I chuckled when you wrote you went to primary school in 1988. I was already in high school. 🙂

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  17. Hello, I want to thank you for sharing this post. My family lived in Lobatse from 1985 to 1990, and I was 3 when we moved there, and 7 when I left. I was only in Crescent for Standard 1, and 2, but my siblings who were older spent much of Primary school there. We used to go to the mosque sometimes, as well. I haven’t been back to Botswana since 1992, and seeing these pictures means so much to me. Thank you for sharing what my childhood town looks like now. It’s surreal to see how not much has really changed.
    Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Usman, You are most welcome! Thank you so much for this heart-warming message. I never imagined how many people I would touch by writing and sharing this post but so many old Lobatse residents have reached out to me! I am so glad you enjoyed this and thank you for sharing a piece of your story with me. Lobatse was such a special place to grow up in and looking at the dates you were there, we would have been at school together at least for the 2 years you were there! I was 10 in 1990 so would have just been a few years ahead of you. My sister Njalakangwa is 3 years younger than me so you might have been in the same class!

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