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Sowa Town 20 yrs old - interview w JW

Sowa Town is now 20 yrs old and it's some kind of celebration.
Boidus Focus - a construction/architecture/town planning periodical - made an interview with me and I am presenting this in the following:


                   Interview with Jan Wareus by Killion Mokwete –


BD:  Having developed the original plans of Sowa Town, what where the key aspects of place making that your original proposals were investigating?

a.       How would you say these elements have been realized in the last 20 years?

b.       Gaborone original master plan was said to have been developed around the garden city theories, were they any theories that the original plan of Sowa was investigating?

JW:     The key aspects we adapted in 1988-89 for the planning of Sowa Town were:

               ·                 Adaptability and flexibility to allow for growth

               ·                 Adaptation to the site and the provision for a good living environment

               ·                 Non-polarization of socio-economic groups

               ·                 Easy access to services for most of the people

               ·                 Facilitation of traditional cultural activities and social interaction

 Prior to the start of the detailed planning, I spent a night at the site (with the       heard boys at their camp in the “forest” that traverses the site). 

To me this kind of “investigation” is important. The “spirit of the place” is necessary to find.
Some forest strip, flat grassland, dryness, but flowers in the early spring! And all these yellow puppies!
The major impulse came and Sowa Town’s overall design was handed to me by the flowers. Petals around a bud – see fig 2! The “flower of the desert” was given to me by a “spiritual session” on the site. So it goes!
As I see Sowa today, it is still a “flower in the desert” but unfortunately everlasting at the stage when it was planted/constructed. The planned elements are there but not fully used in the way we hoped 20 yrs ago.
I do not think that the idea of a “garden city” was ever in the mind when Sowa was planned. No other “design” theory either. In my book, a garden city is essentially a suburb. That makes the Gaborone situation so paradoxical – a suburb to what? No, Sowa Town is not a suburb and must have a life of its own!
This was very clear from the start of the planning. It was small so no theory from Chandigarh, Canberra and Brazilia was applicable. It could only be based on the eternal Tswana tradition of making a new town now and then! And keeping to the unique Tswana “town planning” spatial principles as far as possible!
To some degree, the basis was the successful planning of Jwaneng but turned inside out, so to say, (activities at the front, pedestrians not facing backyards only). Jwaneng is a fine design from 1977-79 by a colleague of mine from Sweden – Albio Gonzales.

BD: Sowa settlement as mining town was originally developed with the mine as a centre piece of its life. How did the original plans reflect this reality and what were the diversification plans for the future growth of the township?

JW: Of course, the reason for the town was the mining at Sua so this is central to most people there. But as can be seen from the first layouts, it was hoped that the mining would attract many industries (depending on the soda ash, like glass factories and chemicals).  However, as unfortunately in Botswana, the raw product was exported untreated – as for copper and until some time ago, diamonds. Personally, I was very disappointed when a glass factory was directed to Palapye instead of Sowa. Probably as coal is nearer. But there is plenty of coal in the Central District and also close to Sowa. Maybe not attracting world market prices but to a “domestic” price.
Diversification and future growth of Sowa is very important to make it more than a “camp” for workers at the mine.
The first plan was indicating a suitable large area for such industries (even with a sideline to the railway). We planners are thinking about periods longer than the politicians that have a short mandate period and also a short memory, it appears. So much money invested and so little use of it!

BD:  The mines life expectancy is said to have been not more than the 50years at its inception, how did you go about designing a town with this condition?

JW: As seen above, the expectancy of the mine depends of where the raw product goes and the price of transportation, among other things. The 50 yrs life of the mine is thus based on short term export basis. (However, as a mild joke, most buildings in the town are built by pre-made elements and bolted together. Easy to dismantle and reuse!)
Nothing in the design was influenced by this (to me not even known) 50 yr lifespan. And certainly not to the (then) Dir/DTRP who insisted on all the extensions of the ultimate Master Plan indicated in fig 2. But that was more or less all DTRP insisted on at the design stage – an exceptional situation for a private market planner!

 Fig 2 is the Preliminary Master Plan from February 1989:              

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       BD:  What is the current state of the plan of Sowa Town as you original envisioned?
         -    Are you still involved with the townships development planning?

JW : The first 2.5 phases are there on the Google Earth photo (fig 1) as indicated on the first detailed layout (see fig 3) and note that this plan was for the period 1989 – 2010. So why am I complaining about “everlasting” situation? Well, missed opportunities, I suppose. But in fact, everything goes as planned!

Sowa Town Detailed Layout from 1990:

After having the plans approved, I have not been further involved in Sowa Town. I think this is because of bad feelings at DTRP that most of its “standards” and “rules” were neglected by the special working committee at BHC (and included service providers and engineers from time to time but most importantly, the implementers BHC, Anglo-American plus Min of Com/Industry and MFDP) and DTRP with its naive rulebooks was simply over-run.

BD:  How do you see the Sowa Town going forward in light of other mining towns such as Selibe Phikwe which is in the fast decline?

JW: As mentioned above, the situation for our mining towns are “self made”. If the Norway factory that makes things of the crude Selebi Phikwe copper was placed in S/B it wouldn’t be a problem at all. Of course, all mining is based on finite resources, but finite only in existing world market prices (as oil) but not in a truly planned situation.

BD:  What role do you think the Sowa Township council should plan in the future development of the city plan?
-      How should this role be complemented by the national town’s development authority, which is  DTRP?

JW: Sowa Town has a great future but it needs a great deal of work from the town council (to remind central GoB of its existence and conditions for future growth). To me, it doesn’t appear that the council has even realized what excellent tourist base they have. When the Swedish King was here, several people told me they had been to Sowa and had a great time!
To me, this is something to build on – see Sowa and take a walk on the pan!
Your  question re. DTRP – Well, as DTRP according to all invitations for planning projects clearly states that it has no capacity to undertake the project in-house, I think your question is totally irrelevant – sorry!

Jan Wareus


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