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BOTSWANA – GABORONE / URBANISM: Gaborone Town Plan. Zoom



A fascinating map of the ‘planned city’ of Gaborone, built in the 1960s to serve as the capital of the newly independent state of Botswana, printed in Gaborone around 1975, employing a bright palate of local colours.

Place and Year: Gaborone: Film Productions Botswana (Pty) Ltd., [circa 1975].
Code: 65496

Colour off-set print, printed on both sides, original folds (Good, map proper is clean and bight, only an abrasion in lower right corner taking out a small piece of the surface of the border, verso cover / advertisements a little stained; some wear along original folds), 42 x 46 cm (16.5 x 18 inches). 


In the early 1960s, as the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, in Sothern Africa, came close to obtaining its independence, its leaders had a major problem on their hands.  Strangely, Mafeking, although part of South Africa, had traditionally served as the colony’s administrative centre, yet could no longer be used as such.  The new country needed its own capital.  The problem was the entirely rural, arid country possessed no settlements that could play the part.  An entirely new city had to be built from scratch.

This challenge was heartily embraced by the leaders of the future Botswana, and the new capital would be the basis of a bright future for the fledgling state.  The idea of building entirely new capital cities was then en vogue.  In 1960, Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil, was completed to a design by the architect Oscar Niemeyer.  Chandigarh, the joint capital of the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, then in the process of being built (it would be completed in 1966), was made to a design by the legendary Le Corbusier.

The small village of Gaborones, a well-watered site, located near the South African border, was chosen to host the new capital.  The city would have to essentially be built from the wilderness, as the village was only a small ranching settlement, with its only claim to fame being the place where Cecil Rhodes, in 1895, planned the infamous ‘Jameson Raid’ upon the Transvaal.

Construction of ‘Gaborones’ city commenced in mid-1964, following a plan based on ‘garden city’ principles, with well-ordered districts and wide boulevards, set amidst parkland.  The city was planned to be the anecdote to the congestion and disorder that increasingly plagued many African capitals. 

The present map shows the city true to its original plan.  The city was built in a concentric semi-circle layout, likened to a “brandy glass”, with the stem containing the ‘Mall’ or central boulevard of government offices.

Over 2,000 workers laboured for 3 years, moving 250,000 blocks of concrete, although the city was functional by the time that Botswana became an independent state on September 30, 1966.  At that point, the city had a population of 5,000, although this figure was to rise rapidly.

The city was formed into 15 wards, each of which had a designated function, as represented here in bright Botswanan colours.  For example, Ward 1 hosted the train station and hotels; Ward 2 hosted offices and shops; Ward 3 was home to The Mall (the government centre); Ward 6 hosted the industrial zone; while many of the remaining wards where residential.  Ward 15, the ‘Village’, offset from the main town, represents the original village of Gaborones.  The outskirts of the city features the airport, golf club, fair grounds, national stadium, and the university, plus other facilities.

The city’s name was changed to ‘Gaborone’ form ‘Gaborones’ in 1969.

Gaborone was internationally hailed a major achievement in urban design.  While the virtues of the original plan, the “brandy glass”, have endured, as the urban environment there is orderly, clean and pleasant, Gaborone’s outskirts had since grown to include over 450,000 residents.  Today there is a great contrast between the ordered centre and the relatively ill-planned suburbs.

The present map was issued around 1975, when the original plan was fully established, but before the onslaught of suburban sprawl.  The map was likely commissioned by Gaborone’s Chamber of Commerce as a promotional piece for tourists, as on the verso of the piece, it features advertisements for Barclay’s Bank, the Holiday Inn, Zambia Airways, as well as a pharmacy and insurance company.  The map was printed in Gaborone by the firm of Film Productions Botswana (Pty) Ltd.

Such rare ephemeral maps of African cities are rare survivors, and this map is particularly interesting, as is showcases one of the world’s most important and successful planned cities.

Availability: In stock