Sunday, May 29, 2022

Is the Francistown Monarch Mine an ignored historic valuable asset?

Found within the North East District of Botswana, Francistown began as a commercial tiny mining town in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of an influx of European mineral explorers near the confluence of Tati and Ntshe rivers. In fact long before Francistown was founded the natives who were predominantly the Bakalanga tribe had a long history of mining activity in the area. According to historians, there is evidence of a settlement in the Francistown area as early as the ninth century.

European mining explorers would later arrive in the mid-nineteenth century and one such famous explorer was, Karl Mauch a German mineral prospector who hounded and located the gold deposits at a place that later became known as the “Monarch mine” an underground mine which was in the Tati District.

Mauch’s discovery triggered the “Gold Rush” in Southern Africa and soon after a number of European prospectors, miners, traders and other adventurers flocked the area. In the Tati District it was discovered that there was a number of gold fields. A number of companies from Rhodesia and South Africa flooded Francistown to explore and develop the gold mines hence the era was called the “Gold Rush” The mining activity ultimately brought African mine labourers from various countries particularly Southern Africa which added to the growth of Francistown.

In 1888 gold mining in Francistown became uneconomic and the mining sector had to adjust and find other means of making a living. The cost of keeping the mine in operation became unbearable for the mining explorers as there were no profits. During the same year Francistown changed direction of its economic base from that of being a mining town into commerce and trade.

In 1914 the Tati Concession Mining Exploration Company Limited which owned the mine was forced into liquidation. All existing assets and rights were acquired by another company, Tati Company Limited. In 1956 the then Township Extensions were surveyed to cater for future potential developments, mechanization of sanitation services, complete relaying of reticulation services and installation of diesel power units for electricity.

In 1961 the Francistown Township Authority was formed and in 1966 it was turned into Francistown Town Council (FTC). In 1971 about 100 000 acres of farm land was donated to the Botswana Government by Tati Company Limited and in 1973 the company handed over its mineral rights to Botswana government. Through the passage of time, the government utilized the land for the expansion of Francistown.

Due to its historic gold mining legacy between 1936 and the 1980’s Francistown’s economy was hinged on the Witwatersrand Native Labor Association (WENELA) a company that vigorously recruited labour for South African mines. In 1974 what seemed to have been a clever initiative to transport labour through air by WENELA to South Africa turned into disaster in April 1974 when a four engine Douglas DC Aeroplane crashed and killed over 70 passengers. This in itself also gives Francistown an impetus as a historic mining city.

What is mining heritage? It can be defined as tangible elements associated with the physical environment of mines such as buildings, records and relics. It also includes human experiences, customs and even the lifestyle associated with these mines. Mining heritages have to be protected at all costs as they tell stories of the past regarding mining activity in those particular areas. Mining heritage can also form part of cultural tourism.

When mines reach their lifespan, more often they leave behind a huge number of tangible and intangible remains. These remains can form part of a mining heritage and ultimately lead to tourist attractions. Countries such as South Africa and Australia have benefited immensely through their mine heritage sites which boosts their tourism industries. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Monarch Gold Mine. It is a dying mining history as the mine is not even recognized as a heritage site and yet it has a story to tell.

On the other hand the economic fortunes of Francistown have over the years dwindled as they were also worsened by the closure of the other new mines around the city. One would expect the city’s rich mining past to boost Francistown’s tourism. Today Monarch Mine which is the first commercial gold mine and possibly in the Southern African region seems to have been long abandoned and forgotten despite its potential. In fact there have been complaints from the local authorities in Francistown that the historic mine which was a shaft mine was not fully rehabilitated posing danger to the safety of the people and animals in Francistown.

Responding to Sunday Standard enquiries on why the mine cannot be transformed into a heritage site and ultimately a tourism attraction, the government spokesperson at the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security Shandya Sitale said unfortunately the government has limited information on the underground shafts which therefore may require a costly exercise of establishing the safety of this old underground mine.

On how much was done to rehabilitate the mine she said “government is committed to rehabilitating historic mine workings countrywide including the old Monarch Gold Mine in Francistown in order to make the environmental safe for both the public and animals”.

“Rehabilitation of the old Monarch Gold Mine in Francistown was done at a cost of P18 million. It was fully done as per scope, however additional new historic shafts are indentified in Francistown and surroundings,” she said.

Asked if it is possible to revive the historic mine Sitali said that will be dependent on feasibility or outcomes that may be carried out by potential investors as the rehabilitation works was not intended to sterilize the resource. She said the feasibility studies will determine the mineable resource that is still available to revive. On why the historical mine companies did not rehabilitate the mine rather than leaving the responsibility to government she said that the historic mines were established prior to the Mines and Minerals Act.

“The mining companies were not compelled to rehabilitate due to legislative limitations,” she 

said.

In 2012 Galane Gold a Canadian Company which owns Mupane Gold Mine near Francistown also announced plans to resuscitate the mine but reports suggest that it abandoned the plan. Several efforts to get clarity on this issue from Mupane Gold Mine General Manager Cedric Sam have failed as he could not answer to the Sunday Standard Questions.

In an interview with theSunday Standard Historian and Academic Abel Mabuse said the reason why the mine has probably not been declared a heritage site yet is because there are no archaeological features to declare it as such as they were destroyed by modern mining methods.

“Remember there was mining before the arrival of the Europeans in the area by the Bakalanga who were the natives. The problem is some of the features that would make the mine a proper heritage site were destroyed by modern mining after the arrival of the Europeans. The last time I was at Monarch mine it had been rehabilitated and there was nothing much to show that it can be heritage site,” he said.

He however said that there are dolly holes near the area which clearly show that there was mining activity done by the natives prior to the arrival of Europeans and they are treated separately as heritage areas. Mabuse could not rule out the fact that the mine can still be transformed into a tourist attraction area if more features are found and compel it to be declared it as such.  

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