SOWA TOWN, BOTSWANA — Driving from Francistown North East on the A3 highway, 147km branching further east for about 20km lies a quiet town, perhaps one of the quietest yet full of potential to be among the best should all plans by our decision makers come to fruition. Welcome to Sowa Town – salt in the language of the first people of the Kalahari, the San.
Known to many through its mining activities courtesy of Botswana Ash (BOTASH) where our sodium carbonate is mined, Sowa Town according to the 2011 national census stood at only about 3 500 inhabitants. The small population has thus rendered this low-key habitat into some kind of ghost town reminiscent of a campsite.
Quite notable is the obvious nonexistence of banking structures, and for those of you coming here from Thursday, July 11th until July 15th better come prepared with cash, money talks here, seeing the wide array of activities lined up this weekend!
However, don’t despair just yet because we are told that whenever month end approaches, a mobile bank is deployed for everyone to indulge in their finances before they could all drive out to the nearby towns; either Nata and Francistown for a well-deserved shopping spree.
Well, enough about ATMs, banks and the lack thereof! In Sowa Town one will find a junior secondary school, primary school, clinic, mini multi-purpose stadium and two lodges. That’s just about all the important developments that exist in this area.
When one puts together the mathematical acumen as what can be done to this far-flung place, you’d realize a lot can be done and achieved here propelled also by the proceeds from the salt mine.
Under any normal circumstances, every tourism-oriented locality must have a trust which facilitates the wealth of all its natural offerings so the entire community can benefit.
So when I looked at all that Sowa Town offered in terms of natural beauty and wealth, I was blown away and perplexed as to why the rampant lethargy. However, my concerns were soon addressed when sitting at BOTASH with Managing Director, Kangangwani Phatshwane who allayed my fears by explaining that they are in the process of opening the park for the community to host various events so as to alleviate the rampant boredom that has struck his town.
Sowa being the gateway to Sua, Ntwetwe and Makgadikgadi Pans fully suggest that tourism activities are primary economic strives for the area.
“When we look at the western side, away from Maun into the pans, there are already safari camps such as Jack’s Camp but on our side from Francistown has been lacking. However, 5 years ago when Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) started Race for Rhinos and Makgadikgadi Epic we knew this was definitely a start to something big for this forlorn community. Makgadikgadi Epic receives around 2, 500 people so that’s almost double this community in numbers. Our pans receive so much water that is only utilized in two events and this has to change.”
Furthermore, the BOTASH boss said, “Our role here is to facilitate the event owned by the BTO. We got involved with tourism for a reason, aptly to improve the management of the wetland system in the region. One of the issues which motivated us the most is the fact that tourism from western side was booming whilst the Eastern side was somewhat neglected, hence we wanted something to compliment the Nata Bird Sanctuary. When the pans are flooded, we must make it possible for tourists particular Batswana to experience various water sports. This is the best place to host this event because its topography and visibility are clear.”
Patshwane added that, “We have a vast pan, which when it has enough water you can go for 40km. As Botash we are not a tourism company but this land is under our lease and we believe tourism has so much potential to grow here, hence we encourage the private sector to forge partnerships with all relevant authorities. We are open to business for tourism agents to come to us and speed up tourism so we don’t have once off events. Makgadikgadi epic has been a start and we want it to grow in leaps and bounds, and add meaningful contributions to the country’s coffers.”
For her part Principal Economist at Sowa Town Council, Dimpho Sedumedi says the economic activity though it is small has the potential to turn Sowa into a booming economic town.
“As for the town, Sowa doesn’t have much economic activity. The community here go as far as Nata and Francistown for shopping but with an event of this magnitude coming; informal sector and Small Micro Enterprise (SMME) make a better turnover. We have come a long way, when we started even the community classified the event as just for Botswana Tourism, however they have now come on board and we have had 15 registered hawkers in 2018, it was successful.”
“We do urge the local community businesses with camping facilities to come forth to accommodate the upcoming masses. We charge a mere P50 fee. This year we have increased tenders for hawkers from 15 to 30. There will be further opportunities for transport businesses to the event as we are expecting more numbers this year.”