This article will focus on our three oldest main urban areas – Gaborone, Francistown and Lobatse. In each of these towns/cities, the central business district [CBD] is located in the centre of the town/city and is the oldest commercial district. In many western countries, the CBDs in many large cities have not always stood the test of time.
Over time, urban decay set in and, up to recently, they appeared neglected and run down. But such CBDs have always played a major pivotal role in the cities’ subsequent development and prosperity. They are also a part of the rich history of these urban areas. But they have been overshadowed by new spick and span shopping malls and commercial centres which have sprung up throughout the suburbs.
For these reasons, many of these CBDs are now receiving a facelift in order to survive. And our CBDs are also experiencing a similar fate. Some years ago, Gaborone’s old CBD – the Main Mall, located between Parliament and the Civic Centre – was seriously getting run down. Most people who patronized it were government workers employed in nearby ministries and offices.
They would part with their hard earned cash during lunch hour, or after work, buying food from street vendors or the two supermarkets in the mall. But once government offices closed at 4.30pm, the CBD became deserted; and at weekends, it would resemble a ghost town with little to attract visitors and residents alike. Indeed, it was a shadow of its former self. Clearly, the CBD’s demise was on the cards, a foregone conclusion.
People in their droves now visited new suburban shopping malls, such as Molapo Crossing, Airport Junction, Sebele and Kgale. And it’s easy to see why. The malls were modern, well laid out with ample parking space, and were graced with a wide variety of major well known stores to cater for all the needs and wishes of customers.
Such stores sell the latest trendy fashions, furniture, sports equipment, books and other consumer goods whilst huge hypermarkets sell almost everything under the sun. Plus countless cafes and restaurants offer hungry foot weary customers a large range of delicious foods – pizzas, KFC, Nandos, and places specialising in Indian, Chinese and Mexican dishes. Plus gyms for a workout to burn off the fat and improve your figure and a cinema or two to while away the time in air-conditioned comfort.
Finally, most people in Gaborone live close to one of these malls and so would be spared an often long and tiresome journey into the city centre, thanks to the seemingly never - ending traffic jams at all times of the day.
But, fortunately, the story does not end there! The city fathers finally put on their thinking caps and decided to follow the example of their European and American counterparts. They now began to see the need to revitalize Gaborone’s CBD and to inject the much needed life into the place and so revive its fortunes.
So, why is Gaborone’s Main Mall now reliving its glory days? Firstly, in contrast to some other CBDs in the country, it is a vehicle-free pedestrian precinct. It is also more attractive to the eye these days. The main walkway is made up of attractive red and grey interlocking bricks. Shade trees also grace the area, some of which are indigenous to South America. Some palms and aloes have been planted in containers here.
The walkway is now flanked by numerous gazebo-style stalls which attract and tempt a passersby to stop, look, and maybe part with a few pulas! The stalls offer potential buyers a surprisingly wide range of goods – modern clothing, traditional clothing from Botswana and elsewhere in Africa, African prints, colourful batiks, wood carvings, beadwork, necklaces, grass baskets, leather shoes, kgotla chairs, knobkerries... Plus countless food stalls dishing out tasty snacks and meal at affordable prices.
So, the mall caters for the needs of both residents and tourists from afar. Botswana is regarded by many as having a litter problem. But the Main Mall is very clean; thanks to the good number of attractive waste containers plus wheelie bins for papers, plastic and glass.
Thus it is not surprising that Gaborone’s CBD now has an edge over the CBDs of Francistown and Lobatse. But despite the improvements, the pre-independence buildings here could do with a much needed overdue facelift - a lick of paint.