Lobatse has a rich political, social and economic legacy and heritage, documented through Fish Keitseng and Samora Machel monuments.
It is difficult to live in that town and not develop a soft spot for it. I am a Bandleng chick: straight out of Woodhall, Lobatse. Call me cheri ya se kasi, if you please! My perception of the town is different now that I am older. It is a town of contrast: the poverty and affluence exist side by side.
The grapple to be modern in a vintage landscape is quite obvious. Perhaps what could strike anyone would be the unrealised potential of the town.
Lobatse is a cosmopolitan metropolis town, once an economic hub and most of the people there were part of the urban migration when the town still enjoyed economic success. My working-class parents moved there to work.
And they never left.
My formative years were spent at the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) residential quarters. We later moved to Woodhall, which was a stark difference but I adjusted because it also had a strong sense of community.
The town incites nostalgia within me. One could not be from Lobatse and not be a supporter of Gunners. I recall the black and white T-shirt my mother donned when the team played. Had a strong loyalty and affection, and back then the team always won.
Choppies as we known it now started off as a small grocery store commonly known as ko ga MmaSabera in Peleng. (Now known as Wayside). This was the most popular store before the modern chain stores arrived.
There was also the now defunct Co-op, where we bought our groceries. And of course there was Lesedi stores, situated opposite our house, in a dirty mall called Moselewapula. I still call the humble abode, home.
Growing up, there were a lot of memorable experiences. Oh, who could forget trips to Mthetwa’s humble store in Peleng, where we bought the most scrumptious fat cakes (that sold for about ten thebe) and artchar?
Another popular store in my time was Danna, owned by the Puskas couple, where one could conveniently get bread and the cool drink that accompanied the special Sunday meal, with the hope of getting a free sweet. (The Puskas’ now own Big Five, Majestic Five and Big Valley lodges).
I favoured being transported to school using rre Mo-India’s kombi. Everyone wanted to be on Mo-India’s kombi (I have since established that is not his real name and that residents of Peleng gave him the name because he was an enterprising man. Ha!)
He is an amiable and hard working man who owns several bars, including yes, Moselewapula, a stone’s throw away from my house. I learnt most songs here, and waited for Sundays for soothing classics when I would sing along to jams such as Said I loved but I lied by Michael Bolton.
Considering this enterprising and supportive spirit in the community, one would have expected that the town would have many thriving enterprises. Not so. In fact, Lobatse is poorer than it was several years ago.
Most of the small and medium scale business owners complain of low business, largely because there aren’t many people with the financial muscle to bolster their enterprises.
Lobatse has suffered great misfortunes, which include the relocation or closure of key industrial companies such as Ben Rose, Lobatse Tiles and the Teacher Training Centre.
To date, there is only the High Court and Geological Surveys, now renamed Botswana Geo-Science Institute (BGSI), to speak of.
Even the previously renowned BMC and Lobatse Clay Works have lost their previous lustre, having previously retrenched hundreds of employees and struggling to make exceptional business.
The town could have highly benefited from a rigorous economic plan that includes taking advantage of its rich heritage, proximity to the capital city and minefield of artistic and creative talent among the youth from the southern areas.
Lobatse could have been a manufacturing, arts or even agro business hub, to create employment, develop thriving industries and eventually alleviate the stark poverty prevalent in the town.
Sadly, nowadays many people seem to be in a hurry to leave Lobatse or only want to pass through it.
This Saturday, scores of people will flock to the Stadium in Lobatse to celebrate 120 years of the town’s existence. It is bittersweet because you want to celebrate the milestones, and the changes and developments but you also mourn what Lobatse should have and could have been.
Lobatse’s is a dream deferred, but I hold dear the memories and the heart-warming quiet that transcends the town.
I have had conversations with passionate natives of the town including Loatile Seboni (who was once at the helm of YWCA) and Micheal Bontsheng, an engineer by profession, who tried his luck at politics but didn’t win the council seat he contested in the past election.
He had amazing ideas and knew so much about the town but insisted that the town has intellectual drain because there are no great minds in leadership positions. In the past years, one Gobe Taziba, who is now a member of the BNYC, wrote extensively about the need to revive the town and position capable and passionate leadership to lead it to glory.
I have spoken to many other people who are sad that Lobatse remains a ghost town despite the significant history that it carries.
During his time as MP, Nehemiah Modubule preached economic diversification for the town, but the ideas never saw the light of day. Progress has been quite slow. Despite it’s unrealised potential, as it celebrates many years of it’s majestic existence, I say, ‘I love you Bandleng, for you are my Dladleng!’