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 Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.