Meet the peo­ple of Fran­cis­town

Fran­cis­town is one of the big­gest towns in eastern Botswana and an im­por­tant overnight and shop­ping stop on your jour­ney north. Spend a few days here if you’re not in a hurry – here’s what some of the lo­cal res­i­dents like to do for fun.

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The Strauss fam­ily: Richardt, Belinda, Krista (14) and Adri­aan (16)

“My grand­fa­ther moved here in 1959 and I was born in Fran­cis­town,” says Richardt. “I have two broth­ers and a sis­ter and my par­ents are still alive. We all live here.

“My wife Belinda was born in Bu­l­awayo and moved to Fran­cis­town in 1990. We live on a small­hold­ing next to the Tati River south of town and work in con­struc­tion, mostly in the petroleum in­dus­try.

“What makes Fran­cis­town such a great place to live is that it’s close to the Mak­gadik­gadi Pans. Kokonje Is­land is one of our favourite places. Chobe and Moremi are also just a day’s drive away. Ev­ery year we drive the Hunter’s Road north of town dur­ing the Easter week­end.

“Na­ture is our back­yard. Fran­cis­town is sur­rounded by sandy riverbeds that are dry most of the time. On week­ends, peo­ple with mo­tor­bikes and 4x4s go play in the sand. Some­times we tow a piece of con­veyor belt be­hind the bakkie for the kids to sit on – it’s great fun! When the rivers have water, we swim or float down­stream on in­ner tubes. Af­ter the heavy rains in March 2017, we skied right next to the Nata tar road! (See more pho­tos on page 114.)

“Belinda and I ride our moun­tain bikes ev­ery day – we can ride for hours with­out cross­ing a tar road. When we cy­cle, we see more wild an­i­mals than ve­hi­cles.”

Nags Bawa

I find Nags Bawa (pic­tured above) next to the Tati River near Tan­te­bane Re­sort, about 42 km north- east of Fran­cis­town on the Bu­l­awayo road. It’s a Satur­day af­ter­noon and Nags and one of his em­ploy­ees, Syd­ney Mkuze, are keep­ing a keen eye on their fish­ing rods. Soon they land a shiny tilapia.

“I have a print­ing busi­ness in town,” says Nags. “I was born in Zim­babwe, Syd­ney too, but Fran­cis­town has been my home for 20 years. I’m ac­tu­ally an Aus­tralian cit­i­zen – some of my chil­dren live there – but the life­style keeps me in Botswana. This coun­try has a strong democ­racy, it’s peace­ful and peo­ple get along. It never feels like you’re be­ing tar­geted for who you are. I feel safe here.

“Where busi­ness is con­cerned, things can be slow at times. Peo­ple live by the motto ‘Hakuna matata’, es­pe­cially in re­mote ar­eas in the north­ern parts of the coun­try.

“I like to go fish­ing on week­ends. We usu­ally catch tilapia, but also bar­bel. It’s a hobby I’ve had all my life. It has taken me to some in­ter­est­ing places.

“Your fo­cus is the fish­ing rod. It’s just you and the rod.”

Cost: Day vis­i­tors at Tan­te­bane Re­sort P50 (R64) per per­son. Stay in the camp­site or in one of the chalets if you want to fish. See page 94 for ac­com­mo­da­tion rates. tan­te­bane.com GPS: S20.84759 E27.58820

Mike West & Rick Hup­pelschoten

Mike and Anne West own the pop­u­lar Wood­lands Stop Over on the Nata road north of Fran­cis­town.

Mike and his friend Rick Hup­pelschoten – an Aussie who’s been liv­ing in Botswana for 20 years – are keen golfers. I meet them at Tan­te­bane Re­sort, where they of­ten play a round.

“Fran­cis­town also has a golf course,” says Mike. “A mag­a­zine once listed it as one of the worst cour­ses in the world. We were play­ing there one day when we saw a hare dart past, fol­lowed by a bunch of bark­ing dogs, fol­lowed by…” “A guy with a knobker­rie!” Rick in­ter­jects. Mike picks up the story again: “At the next hole there were guys try­ing to smoke a co­bra out of its bur­row…”

It’s time to tee off so I take a step back. Swoosh. Rick’s ball dis­ap­pears into the blue sky. Swoosh. There goes Mike’s ball.

I say good­bye and they trun­dle off in their golf cart.

Cost: A round of golf at Tan­te­bane Re­sort costs P65 (R83) per per­son. Stay overnight in the camp­site or in one of the chalets – turn to page 94 for more info. tan­te­bane.com GPS: S20.84759 E27.58820

Fos­ter Mot­shola

Hun­dreds of years ago, be­fore bor­ders were drawn be­tween Botswana and Zim­babwe, Great Zim­babwe was a trad­ing em­pire with satel­lite “towns” in the Fran­cis­town re­gion. Dom­boshaba was one of th­ese out­posts and it’s now a na­tional her­itage site.

I ar­rive at Dom­boshaba at 4 pm on a Satur­day and the gate is closed. I call one of the tele­phone num­bers listed on a sign on the fence and that’s how I reach Fos­ter Mot­shola.

“No prob­lem,” he says. “Just pick me up at my house.”

I drive the 2 km to his vil­lage. The ru­ral area north of Fran­cis­town is scenic, with stone kop­pies tow­er­ing over the bushveld. There are vil­lages here that are rarely in­di­cated on maps and the road is tarred so ex­plor­ing is easy. Along the way, I see chil­dren play­ing netball on a sand court, a group of friends hav­ing a pic­nic in a dry riverbed and a team clad in green and white play­ing soc­cer against a team in or­ange.

It’s not Fos­ter’s shift at Dom­boshaba to­day, but he’s happy to help me out. I of­fer him some bil­tong and we head back to the her­itage site.

The vil­lage where Fos­ter lives is called Vukwi. “It’s named af­ter this river,” he says, point­ing to the riverbed with the pic­nick­ers. “The name means ‘to dig from the mud’be­cause many years ago lo­cal res­i­dents helped a man free his stuck ox wagon.”

At Dom­boshaba, Fos­ter un­locks the gate and we drive in. He points out the re­cep­tion area (new fa­cil­i­ties are be­ing built), where posters ex­plain the his­tory of the area. But it’s much eas­ier if he tells it to me: “Dom­boshaba was very ac­tive around 1450,” he says as we walk to the kop­pie where the ru­ins are. “The Bakalanga tribe lived here and they spoke Shona. They traded gold from the Tati River and salt from Sua Pan, which is part of the Mak­gadik­gadi sys­tem. Dom­boshaba means ei­ther ‘red hill’or ‘eland hill’, de­pend­ing on how you read it.”

The ru­ins aren’t as im­pres­sive as Great Zim­babwe, but they’re in­ter­est­ing none­the­less. We stand still in the au­tumn af­ter­noon. Around us is a cir­cu­lar wall – once part of a struc­ture called the Queen’s En­clo­sure. Here and there are mud floors of houses in the grass.

Fos­ter takes me to a big rock, which split apart thou­sands of years ago to form a flat sur­face on one side, al­most like a gran­ite kitchen counter. The Bakalanga used this rock as a kind of mor­tar to crush medic­i­nal herbs, to­bacco and peanuts.

The Bakalanga are long gone and their orig­i­nal pes­tle, too. Great Zim­babwe is also his­tory, but the mor­tar re­mains, like a gi­ant’s thumb print in the rock.

“Have a look around,” says Fos­ter, “The best ruin is on top of the kop­pie.”

We climb a short, steep trail to the walls of the King’s En­clo­sure. Big marula and mod­umela (moun­tain seringa) trees grow be­tween the rocks.

It’s the end of a peace­ful day in the Fran­cis­town dis­trict and Fos­ter has opened my eyes to some­thing I never knew ex­isted. Af­ter­wards, I drop him off at his house, we shake hands and his friendly smile dis­ap­pears into the dusk.

Cost: En­trance to Dom­boshaba P30 (R38) per adult; P15 (R19) per child aged 2 – 15. Open daily from 7.30 am to 4.30 pm; 00 267 74 549 675 (Fos­ter) GPS: S20.60284 E27.37287

Janine Krayer

“I used to work in the fi­nance in­dus­try, but I took a leap of faith and moved to Botswana. I have not re­gret­ted this de­ci­sion for a sec­ond. Friends said I would get bored watch­ing ele­phants on the Chobe, but they couldn’t have been more wrong!

“The land­scape changes with the sea­sons. The rainy sum­mer makes every­thing lush and green, while the dry win­ter turns Kasane and sur­rounds into a near-desert. Dur­ing au­tumn, the river is wide and cov­ered in water lilies. In spring, smaller chan­nels cut through the swampy flood­plain.

“The an­i­mals that live here al­ter their be­hav­iour to adapt to their chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment and this gives a pho­tog­ra­pher fresh scenes to pho­to­graph from month to month.”

Charl and Sabine Stols

“We first vis­ited the Chobe in 2011. We’d been trav­el­ling the world as pho­tog­ra­phers on cruise ships for 10 years prior to that, so we’d seen plenty of beau­ti­ful places. Still, the Chobe stole our hearts right away.

“Now we call the river our ‘of­fice’– a dream come true!

“The beauty of na­ture is that al­though we mostly see the same kind of an­i­mals along the river, we en­counter them in very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions from day to day.

“All kinds of fas­ci­nat­ing be­havioural sce­nar­ios play out in front of your cam­era, in dif­fer­ent light. There’s al­ways a fresh an­gle to take, too.

“Not one day in the African bush is the same and that is what makes our jobs so sat­is­fy­ing.”

SHOT LEFT. The Strauss fam­ily, next to the tar road to Nata. “The road was un­der­wa­ter for up to a kilo­me­tre in places, so traf­fic wasn’t a prob­lem,” says Richardt Strauss. “Mo­tor­boats aren’t al­lowed on dams in Botswana so when it rains we ski on any pud­dle we can find!”

Mike West at Wood­lands Stop Over FRAN­CIS­TOWN

Rick Hup­pelschoten, Tan­te­bane Re­sort

ROCKING THE RU­INS. Fos­ter Mot­shola at the Dom­boshaba ru­ins north of Fran­cis­town (above). This part of the dis­trict is quite densely pop­u­lated with sev­eral large vil­lages con­nected by tar roads – nei­ther of which you see marked on most travel maps. The site of­fers views of mielie fields, bushveld and gran­ite kop­pies (be­low).

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