Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Lobatse: The country’s once cash-cow that is now turning into a ghost town

Economics, natural disasters, and even democracy can wipe a town off the map. One place that has over the years found its way into the world map of ‘ghost towns’ in Botswana is Lobatse. The town – located just about 60 kilometres south of the country’s capital city – Gaborone used to gloat with a vibrant business community but is now shrinking into a depressing state of affairs.

An answer of what exactly is happening to Lobatse – is still a mystery but in the meantime its young populace has decided to desert the town for greener pastures at the city.

This means Lobatse is now listed along other world towns with silent streets and derelict buildings generally referred to as ‘ghost towns’. The term ghost town is now synonymous with Lobatse – home to the ailing Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) that used to be regarded as one of the cash cows of the country’s entire economy.

A chit-chat with a dweller who grow up in this town, more especially in the 1990s could give one an idea of the power that Lobatse had in those years. This power began just on the streets, with vendors everywhere.

“In our reckless escapades as children to have a glimpse of the late former president – Sir Ketumile Masire’s motorcade on its way to his farm situated along the Zeerust road our number one interaction was with the ever busy street vendors.There would be vendors on the other side of the road selling magwinya (fat cakes) and mafresh (fresh chips), the air filled with a thick aroma of this junk food. This smell was like music to our ears and we would devout this iconic meal with absolute pleasure”, a Lobatse native reminisces.

But it’s not only street vendors who have seen a fall in business activity. There are many other industries that have suffered the same fate.

As the area Member of Parliament – Dr Thapelo Matsheka this week took a constituency tour, it became apparent to many that over the years the reality of life forced some of them, and their relatives to leave town in order to make it in business or as career professionals. Lobatse has almost become like a place where dreams are shuttered.

During his tour of vendors and small businesses the minister got a harsh reality of people living in dire need of proper working structures, people longing for the betterment of their businesses and an ear from the powers that be to listen to their grievances.

Along the A1 road, there is a bunch of vendors who were moved from the bus rank to make way for the new mall that is being built by Time Projects. Those vendors opted to squat not far from this construction site but the appearance of their stalls is a devastating one to say the least. Shacks that are either hanging on corrugated iron sheets or wood like material. They are without ablutions and have no access to clean water. The only water they can get their hands on is the one they bring from home.

This has made them lose customers and they are pleading with the Lobatse Town Council to make provisions for them that will make their environment a more habitable and appealing one.

Businessmen like Solomon Diphoko of Disolis Building & Civil Constructors have lost hope in the economy of the town as he doubts projects like the leather park will ever see the light of day, given the situation at the BMC and the live cattle that are currently being sold to the export market.

In a very endearing manner, Diphoko together with his colleagues at the Lobatse Business Council spearheaded by, Bushie Mosala of Mosala Funeral Parlour expressed their displeasure with the town’s authorities over licencing issues, awarding of tenders and the decline of business amongst others.

They want Lobatse to be turned into a manufacturing hub instead of just bringing in developments of malls.

A company called 24/365 owned by Lobatse natives have come up with several initiatives to bring out small businesses into one place. A street market place where people can view and buy their products. They held a virtual workshop recently to continue their strides in helping improve the plight of this town.

Dr Matsheka told Sunday Standard on the side-lines of the tour that the government has various initiatives that need to be exploited. He however reiterated the importance of buying from locals to empower them. From an economist point of view about the nature of business in Lobatse, the MP said the town does not have large industries and as a result there is a lot of small businesses.

He also noted that a few large businesses must be integrated to be able to support the small ones.

“At the local level, councils also need to do their part in making sure that there are provisions that support small businesses, to create linkages and proper alignment between the nature of the Lobatse economy and bigger businesses that are in existence.” He noted.

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