The thought of being a tourist in your own backyard can come across as silly but there is much to learn about our history, politics and lifestyle within our midst.
It was not until recently that I realised that despite coming from the shantytown of Lobatse, and visiting the town time and again, I had never taken time out to appreciate the historical value of the town. After all, the Fish Keitseng Monument and upcoming Samora Machel Museum are situated in the township of Peleng, which is the heart of the town.
So I trekked to Peleng and wound up at the Kgaboesele homestead, where I learnt more about the relationship between the family and Samora Machel, which has cemented Botswana’s ties with Mozambique. The Kgaboesele family accommodated former president of Mozambique, Machel, during the Mozambican liberation struggle.
Appreciating the significance of this gesture, the Mozambique government decided to transform the family’s house into a museum, and build the family a home in nearby Thema. The construction of the Samora Machel Museum is already at an advanced stage, said to be financed to a tune of one million Pula to kick-start the momentous project, pledged by Mozambique officials.
Although developments have already started to make the site a fully fledged monument and museum, a great part of the historical ramble architecture remains, giving any visitor a feel of the original home. It was here that the first store in the town was situated. Lobatse protected all several freedom fighters including Samora Machel, Sam Nujoma and Nelson Mandela—it was a safe place for comrades whose “crime” was to fight social injustices and racial segregation in their respective countries.
Not even Batswana were sparred because some of them were victims of the raids by the brutal apartheid regime. At first sight, one would easily miss the structure. It lies desolate in the lower part of Peleng. There is an assistant on hand to take guests through the area. There is a profound eerie atmosphere inside the room that Machel apparently lived and slept in.
It is so small and dark that I couldn’t help but wonder if he ever felt claustrophobic. What does one do for hours on end lying on a narrow bed in such a small room? On one side is a basin stand, where he probably washed. There are old tattered suitcases on another corner, which he apparently carried the few personal items in. The yard is a traditional old-fashioned structural set-up
The house is situated next to a popular bar known as Ko ga Lemmy (Lemmy’s bar) which hosts the best jazz sessions in the small town. There isn’t a lot of traffic into the museum facility, and in fact, most residents seem uninterested in the place, perhaps oblivious to the fact that they are living in the midst of a giant historical marvel and do not know how to tap into the financial potential of urban tourism in the area through celebrating the unique township culture of Peleng.
One thing stands out – the kinship among the people. There is a sense of love and serenity and a prevailing spirit of community, which probably spurred the people to protect the freedom fighters and accept them as one of their own. The Samora Machel museum stands majestically to serve as a reminder of this.