Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Is that Cecil Rhodes haunted house at Francistown judges’ residence?

FRANCISTOWN: There is a mysterious old bungalow entrenched within the secured walls of the Francistown High Court Judge’s residence in Francistown.

Controversy surrounds this old house. Tongues are wagging as to why the house is within the residence and why it has not been declared a monument.

Unverified information suggests that this mysterious relic of a house was owned by Cecil John Rhodes – the famous businessman, politician and mining magnate during the colonial era.

This dilapidated building, which bears details of architectural design of the colonial era, has mystified Francistowners.

As one passes by the northern side of the residence, the most visible part of the structure is its rusting rooftop and its cracking chimney. The rest of its walls are concealed away from the prying eyes of the public.

The Judges residence is located within the Government Camp at the foot of Nyangabwe Hill which incorporates some of the old historic buildings in Francistown. Some of these old buildings include the hexagonal building, the dilapidated old miners’ cottage and the jail house.

Rhodes was an influential rich British man who played a crucial role in, among others, the colonization of southern Africa. He was the founder of De beers Group in 1888 which currently holds shares in Debswana with Botswana government.

He is also renowned for attempting to build a railway line from Cape to Cairo, a project which could not see the light of the day.

Chief Registrar of the High Court Nomsa upon The Telegraph enquiries Moatswi said: “The Administration of Justice does not know whom the house belonged to”. She could not confirm or deny if the old building belonged to Cecil John Rhodes.

“The Administration of Justice simply constructed Judges houses on the plot that it was allocated by the relevant authority. At the time of such allocation, there was a building which still does exist at the said plot,” she said.

In addition, Moatswi explained that the power to declare any building a ruin as a historic monument lies entirely with the Minister in terms of Section 11 of the Monuments and Relics Act (Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism)

“The Administration of Justice is not in a position to answer this question as it does not know if the building used to accommodate or belong to Cecil John Rhodes or what its purpose was,” she added.

An employee of the Administration of Justice who did not wish to be named told The Telegraph that the reason why the building was not destroyed or removed from the residence is that it has some historical value.

“The information we gather from our superiors is that the house has some historical value hence it is enclosed within the residence. It was not destroyed during construction of the residence,” said the employee.

However, in an interview with The Telegraph historian and academic Abel Mabuse said in his entire research on Francistown colonial heritage, he has not come across any building associated with the earliest gold mining activities that may date to the 1870’s or 1800. He further said the building has no known historical significance.

Francistown started as a gold mining town and the mineral resource sustained its economy from the late 1800s until the 1930s. The discovery triggered the first gold rush in Southern Africa. Mabuse strongly opined that the house could not belong to Cecil John Rhodes.

He emphasized that all the buildings in the Nyangabwe area where the Judges residence is situated are associated with British Colonial Government as opposed to the Gold Rush.

“I believe if the building was that important, it would be a national monument by the virtue of being a very old building as well as being associated with Cecil John Rhodes,” he said.

Mabuse is also the former Head of Archaeological Research and Collections at the National Museum.

Francistown which has a very rich history has many other old buildings which are unkempt and have been left to crumble. Given its rich history, Francistown has the potential to revive its already dying economy through cultural tourism by protecting its heritage sites.

Heritage sites are very important as they help people examine their history and traditions and enables them to develop an awareness about themselves. Countries like Egypt, France and China have over the years thrived economically through their heritage sites. Heritage sites can help boost cultural tourism which is already an international multi-billion-dollar business.

Several efforts to get a comment from the Director of National Museums Department (Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism of Museums) Stephen Mogotsi hit a snag as he was always said to be busy with workshops. He also could not respond to a questionnaire from The Telegraph by the time of going to press.

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