Botswana’s “second” museum to stamp its authority
by Bashi Letsididi
Ask anyone how many museums there are in Gaborone and the answer would be, “one, the national museum at the Main Mall.” Actually, there are two museums in the city.
Tucked away in a corner on the ground floor of the BotswanaPost head office is an in-house museum, the only one in the entire country that is devoted to philately - which is defined as the art of collecting and studying of postage stamps.
This museum is just large enough to accommodate two parallel rows of 20 two-way glass display cases hanging from the wall, two curio display cabinets and an old postman’s bicycle.
The Philatelic Museum, which is what the museum is called, would be an absolute delight to Botswana history buffs and stamp-collecting enthusiasts because it features some of BotswanaPost’s highly prized philatelic displays – stamps mostly.
Shuffling around the museum enables the visitor to reconnect with an era gone by through art that depicts what cameramen were not around to capture. An exhibit in the museum traces Botswana’s postal service history to August 1885 when a service, the Runner Post service, was established. Runners carried mail between Mafikeng and what the exhibits refers to as “GuBulawayo” along a predetermined route. Stamps and postmarks from this era and for this service are among the rarest in the whole of Africa.
Another very interesting exhibit is a feature on the Palapye of 1899. At around that time, Bechuanaland was 14 years old and the colonial government was altering the landscape. By standards of the time, Palapye was a fairly well-developed place with a primary school, a court building, a telegraph office and a store run by a certain Blackbeard. At individual level, it does not appear that Palapye’s A-listers were even thinking of embracing western architecture. The stamp exhibit titled “Khama’s Home” depicts three mud huts that belonged to the Bangwato traditional leader.
Botswana’s first stamps were issued on the day that the country became independent – September 30, 1966. The commemorative issues, which were entitled Botswana Independence, featured the country’s prized assets of the time: the national assembly building, the Botswana Meat Commission abattoir in Lobatse, a national airways aeroplane and the State House. The body responsible for designing and issuing the country’s stamps - the Botswana Philatelic Bureau – had been established in the previous year.
Batswana’s response to philately is generally less than enthusiastic and, as to be expected, patronage of the museum is at the same level. However, BotswanaPost is moving to change such attitude by cultivating interest among targeted group and, to that end, periodically conducts workshops for teachers and school children. The purpose of the workshops is to teach those who attend about the benefits of stamp collecting and philately. This is a joint effort between BotswanaPost and the Botswana Philatelic Society.
The irony of it all is that while local enthusiasm for philately maybe lukewarm, Botswana’s stamps are causing a sensation in the world philately market. In 2005, Botswana participated in an international stamp exhibition in Beijing, China and won three prestigious awards. Trophies won at that show now have pride of place in one of the museum’s display cabinets.
According to BotswanaPost’s 2005/06 annual report, stamp sales have been plummeting in the last five years, largely due to stiff competition from what the report refers to as “electronic communications options”. In 1982, there was little else you would do but write a long letter to a friend in another part of the country. With today’s technological advances, however, there is the option of either loading up your cellphone with enough airtime to offload all on your mind or, if you have Internet access, send your message via e-mail - often at no cost to the sender.
BotswanaPost hopes that more activity in the philatelic market would improve sales. In the 2005/2006 financial year, earnings from philatelic products amounted to P397 670, which was P96 346 more than was made in the previous financial year.