Thursday, December 31, 2009

In the footsteps of Kubu...kind of.

Cara’s interesting piece about her visit to the Brigade Criminelle in Paris made me think of the police stations Stanley and I have visited in Botswana seeking information for our Detective Kubu novels. You could call them pre-footsteps, if you like.

The headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department is in the Millennium Park complex west of Gaborone.  Characterless, it is surrounded by parking covered by shade-cloth which loses a daily battle with the sun. It is a new building (ten years old would be a reasonable guess) and encroaches on the base of Kgale Hill which is about the only bit of topography in the area.  We visited the director of the CID there on a Saturday, but went back for another sortie around the area on Sunday.  We were delighted to see that a troupe of baboons had come down from their haunts in the rocky cap of Kgale Hill and taken over the area around the CID. They were sorting through bins and any other items of interest left as the human tide went out for the weekend. It seemed a wonderful metaphor for the juxtaposition of old and new in Africa. One we were not able to resist bringing into the stories.

Up north the Kasane police station has an interesting feature. Kasane lies on the confluence of two major rivers – the Chobe and the Zambezi. It is also at the meeting point of four countries – Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe - clearly not an entirely comfortable location these days. However, the town is thriving with fancy modern hotels overlooking the broad Chobe river and packed with tourists taking trips into the Chobe National Park a short distance away.  Built on the site of the old prison, a modern multi-story building houses the police. The architect took care to design it in such a way that two ancient baobabs could be preserved. Both are hollowed out with once locking doors that allowed prisoners to be held within the tree itself. One tree for the men and one for the women. No more than two in each at a time one hopes! You can climb in, but it’s not a very comfortable or salubrious place to spend the day.

Our third book will be set in the Kalahari desert part of Botswana, so we made the acquaintance of the police there. As usual they were charming and helpful. Tshane is a small village in the heart of the southern Kalahari. It has neighbours of the same type: Hukuntsi – the “commercial centre” sporting a petrol station and guest house, Lehututu – named after the cry of the Ground Hornbill, and Lokgwabe. The villages are there because of the usually dry salt pans which provide subterranean water. The only police station for the group of villages is at Tshane. Unlike the usual Botswana police building, this is an old style colonial one-story dating back to the days of British rule - the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It has the prime site in town: overlooking one of the salt pans. We were told it is the second oldest permanent police post in Botswana. Obviously someone thought this area would grow. Perhaps the old building survived because it didn’t.

The View from Tshane Police Station



  1. What a beautiful place. Perfect for a novel. I think it will be interesting to follow you as you go along this novel journey.


  2. Michael - Prisoner's cells in a baobab tree is a fasscinating image. It is creative enough to be an idea from "Pan's Labyrinth" or "Lord of the Rings" but so stark in its natural place.

    Like nearly every other American, I am woefuly undereducated in geography. When my oldest daughter, now 32, was in the 8th grade her Social Studies class was world geography. She made up a song so that she would remember all the countries in Africa and their locations. While she remembers the song, the countries have changed their names so she is at a loss now, too.

    I think of Africa as jungle rather than savannah and even that concept comes as much from a ride at Disney World as from a text book. I look forward to learning so much more.