Gaborone, Botswana (1880- )

Kgale Hill Overlooking the City of Gaborone
Gaborone from Kgale Hill, Botswana, 2011
Photo by Athena Lao (CC BY 2.0)

Gaborone is the capital and largest city in the African country of Botswana. Formerly known as Gaberones, the name was changed and the town was declared the capital of the country shortly after Botswana won its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Its history, however, extends back much further than 1966.

Though in the last century the location has had no formal tribal affiliation, in 1880 it was settled by Kgosi Gaborone, a Botswana chief of the Batlokwa people. Chosen for its nearness to the Notwane River, he called it Moshaweng. Today the people of Botswana range from clan members of the original Batlokwa tribes as well as expatriates from the developed world. Those from the original Tlokwa people can trace their lineage back to Queen Manthatisi and her son Chief Sekonyela, and tend to speak both English and Setswana.

Gaborone is also the center of commerce in Botswana, with numerous important companies headquartered in the capital as well as most of the nation’s financial institutions. De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond mining companies, was founded near Gaborone in 1888. Its international headquarters remains based in Gaborone. Today De Beers employs many locals, teaching them important skills of diamond sorting and cutting through partnership with the national government. This venture is called Debswana and ensures that the people as well as the diamond industry benefit from mining enterprises situated in the nation.

One of Botswana’s major features outside of the diamond industry is its natural beauty. Unique flora and fauna abound in numerous reserves such as the area surrounding the Gaborone dam and the Gaborone Game Reserve, which is world famous for its bird watching. Other attractions include Kgale Hill and Mokolodi Nature Reserve. Numerous species inhabit the reserve including impala, ostriches, zebras, wildebeest, springbok, Common Egland, warthogs, and hippos. The critically endangered White Rhino is also here, and—although once nearly extinct—it is being reintroduced back into the reserve population. The Reserve’s climate tends to be hot and semi-arid but its proximity to natural streams allows animals, flora, and humans to flourish. Somarelang Tikologo (Environmental Watch Botswana), one of the largest member-based NGOs in Africa, is also headquarted the ecological park.

During the four-decade-long anti-apartheid struggle in neighboring South Africa, Botswana (and especially Gaborone) suffered violence at the hands of the South African Defense Force which illegally crossed the border to attack the armed wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation,” abbreviated “MK”), which had set up operations in the country. The largest raid took place in 1985 when South African troops crossed into Botswana and attacked the offices of Umkhonto we Sizwe in Gaborone. Twelve people were killed including women and children. Only five of the dead actually worked for the MK.