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.
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.”
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
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
“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).