|New Shoshong from the hills|
Few people outside Botswana have heard of Shoshong, yet in its day it was a very important town in southern Africa – much more so than the current capital of Gaborone (which hardly existed at that time) and many South African towns that are now regarded as significant. Founded in the mid nineteenth century, it was chosen for two critical reasons – it is protected on the north by a horseshoe of hills which are difficult to climb because of screes of dolomite boulders, and it had comparatively plentiful water from the Bonwapitse river which flows into the town through a gorge in the hills. Since the Matabele to the north were pretty unfriendly neighbors at the time, the hills were a welcome shield. The leader of the Bangwato people, Sekgoma I, made it his capital when he conquered the Bakaa people in 1849. His son, Khama III, consolidated and built Shoshong into a strategic center which peaked at around 30,000 people.
The town thrived because it was strategically placed on the main road north between what is now southern Botswana and what is now Zimbabwe. It became an important trading center and was host to hunters, missionaries, and famous explorers - including David Livingstone - who passed through. Some Europeans settled there and traces of their tin-roofed rectangular houses and artifacts have been found in the area. Christianity was introduced by John Mackenzie in 1868 when he built the Moffat Institution for the London Missionary Society there. (A church bell was found in the area – the only surviving evidence of the church.) You could be forgiven for assuming that Shoshong was there to stay.
|Buttress over the gorge|
But Shashong’s Achilles’ heel was the very reason for its existence – the river. A prolonged drought and the population’s stress on the environment left the town almost dry and surrounded by semi-desert. By 1889 the town was described as “a filthy place with only one trickling well.” Khama III told his people to pack up and move, which they did, leaving behind a ghost town which was soon reclaimed by the wind.
|Graves old and new|
Little remains to be seen of Old Shoshong, only the remains of the stone walls and the graves both old and new that are filling the space between the Kgotla (meeting place at the north of the new town) and the gorge.
|Learning to drive in New Shoshong|
But it never regained its importance. When Cecil Rhodes planned his Cape to Cairo railway, he sited it well to the east of Shoshong and the trade route moved with it. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Michael - Thursday
Pictures by Jonathan Everitt