Gaborone aspires to be a major player among African cities

Botswana’s capital was initially planned for 15,000 people and is now home to 300,000. Kibo Ngowi’s documentary film examines Gaborone as ‘the Rising City,’ illustrating its history, present circumstance and view for the future.

Leta Mosienyane, author of Gaborone City plan (2009-2021), presents an overview of the history of Botswana’s capital. Emerging in the 1960s as a small government enclave, the 1964 initial plan worked on the assumption that the town would not exceed 15,000 people. Six years later, the population was 75,000; it has now mushroomed to 300,000. For many years, Gaborone was the fastest growing city in Africa, sprawling until the land was exhausted. Professionals now argue that the city needs to focus on regeneration.

City residents interviewed in the documentary observe the planning of road infrastructure, stating that traffic and the lack of efficient routes from the north to south of the city hinder their mobility.

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Leister Sebuso, physical planner at the Gaborone City Council, comments on the need for widened roads. He further argues that the low-density sprawl of Gaborone makes it an expensive city because people are required to travel far for basic needs. The City Council is attempting to increase the density of certain Gaborone areas by making them more compact.

Mosienyane gives insight into the culture of Gaborone residents, who tend “to look outward for excellence.” He believes this stems from a time when residents used to buy groceries in Mafikeng, South Africa, near the border, and sought medical treatment in Johannesburg. Gaborone “is not seen as a centre of efficient distribution [as a city should be].”

Neo Modisi, an architect and development consultant in the city, illustrates how post-independence Gaborone still reflects colonial British architecture and planning. For instance, the numerous glass buildings incorporate a European desire to keep light and heat within the building. However, the Botswana climate demands the opposite approach, which is why indigenous architecture involves circular structures developed with thick masonry, small openings for windows and doors, and space around the buildings.

City planners desire to make Gaborone unique and distinctive through the development of public space and increased public consultation. Sebuso, the planner, encourages residents to ‘own’ the plans for the city and Modisi suggests that the best way to plan for the future of the capital is to consult its residents, particularly its transport service providers.

Experts suggest that increased public space, broad stakeholder consultation and a better understanding of urban renewal will fulfil the wish for the city to become a major stakeholder among Southern African cities and a distinctive city in Africa.

Kibo Ngowi’s “Gaborone: the Rising City” is available at youtube.

Image: screen shot of Gaborone from the film.

 

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