One of Botswana’s oldest towns, Francistown was the centre of southern Africa’s first gold rush. It came to prominence through European prospectors’ discovery and mining of gold in the region in the mid 19th century, first at Tatitown (about 50 kilometres from Francistown), and later at Francistown itself (at Monarch Mine, recently revived).
Gold had been mined by Africans living in the region for generations before. Indeed the wealth and prosperity which the region’s gold deposits have brought stretches as far back as the 12th to 14th centuries.
The city was named after the British prospector and miner Daniel Francis, who acquired prospecting licenses in 1869, eventually becoming director of the Tati Concessions Company. Francis and other prospectors often used ancient gold shafts as guiding points for their prospecting, or they simply carried on the mining which had been started in those shafts generations ago. The city is still surrounded by old, abandoned mines.
The original town was founded as a settlement near Monarch mine in 1897, consisting of only one main street lined with bustling saloons and supply stores running parallel to the railway line, which was established by British entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes as a vital link between South Africa and Britain’s northern colonies.
Situated 436 kilometres north of Gaborone, Francistown is the country’s second largest city, and an industrial and transport hub, with a railway line leading north to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The main road northwest of Francistown gives passage to Maun and the Okavango Delta, Kasane and Chobe National Park, Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Francistown is currently undergoing an economic boom, mostly due to the recent resuscitation of gold mining; this has given new life to the property and transport sectors, with the accompanying infrastructural additions and developments.
Over the years, Francistown (population approximately 115 000) has undergone continual expansion and modernisation, to the point that much of its original dusty frontier town atmosphere has disappeared. Modern malls, shops, hotels, restaurants, housing developments and industrial complexes now dominate the city, with some old, colonial buildings still to be seen in the city centre. Yet colourful, distinctively African local markets dot the city, and pleasant parks give it a user-friendly feeling. A lively nightclub scene showcases good local music and dance.