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Old Tati: Bechuanalandís ancient commercial centre

Very few commercial centres in the 19th century Bechuanaland can ever claim to have acquired the significance that this unsung frontier nestled between Shashe and Ramokgwebane rivers reached.

 

According to records at the Francistown Records Centre, Tati, as the settlement was known, was a hive of both prospecting and mining operations shortly after Henry Hartley and Karl Mauch conveyed positive reports about gold deposits along the lower Tati River.

 

Gold mining, it is necessary to mention, did not start with the arrival of the European prospectors, the local people in the area had been mining between 1100 and 1800 A.D., and especially between 1250 and 1650.

 

Therefore, Hartley and Mauch in their reports were raising awareness about the remains of old mines.

 

Archival material also point that after these reports, experts were sent to confirm the mineral deposits.

 

When these proved to be positive, the experts went back to announce their discoveries in the Transvaal.

 

It was the news of mineral finds by geologists in Old Tati that saw the sending of emissaries to the Matebele, who controlled the gold endowed area after grabbing it during their conquest in their march to the north.

 

The purpose of the expedition to the Matebele sphere of influence was to try and convince them to sell the vast swathe of land endowed with natural resources in the form of gold.

 

According to records, Mzilikazi, the Matebele king, did not agree to sell the land to the Europeans prospectors, but rather preferred to give them permission to extract gold and other minerals.

 

With permission to prospect and mine granted, Old Tati was transformed into the site for the first gold rush in Southern Africa and the mineral boom led to the growth of the town or commercial centre between 1868 and 1870.

 

The Tati settlement blossomed due to the mining boom and this saw about 250 prospectors and miners being active in the area.

 

The mining hub of Old Tati acquired a significant status during this period going on to be the first white settlement north of the Limpopo, which came to serve as a base for a number of hunters and traders, as well as a rest station for travellers on the Hunter’s road from Shoshong to Matebeleland or the Wesbeech road to Victoria Falls.

 

 The original inhabitants of the area were Bakalanga and Basarwa who had resided in the area for centuries.

 

According to Catrien van Waarden, during this period a number of mining companies sprang up with the London and Limpopo Mining Company under John Swinburne and Captain Arthur L. Levert, who had brought a stamp mill and a steam engine to power it, the first to be operated in Southern Africa.

 

A store and a salon was also set up and in 1870, the Tati Concession was granted, giving them permission for mining rights over the Shashe and Ramokgwebane rivers.

 

However, the area in question was in dispute as Bangwato also claimed the land. Van Waarden argued that the company proceeded to assume rights far exceeding the mere mining rights that they were granted, claiming power to lease water rights, land and license machinery.

 

The consequence of these actions was that the company assumed administrative power and the white community established its own legal system.

 

However, it is said that mining in Old Tati proved to be more difficult than was at first thought.

 

Much of the surface deposits had already been removed in prehistoric times and gold-bearing quartz veins had been followed down as far as the water table.

 

As per Van Waarden, many miners did not have the money and machinery required and soon left to try their luck at the diamond fields at Kimberly.

 

Big game hunters had also left by 1871, as most of the game, which had been so abundant 10 years earlier, had disappeared.

 

By 1871 the settlement at Old Tati was virtually abandoned, the only permanent residents remaining until 1879 being Piet Jacobs, a Boer hunter and his family, and Alexander Brown, a Scot who managed the L.L.M.C for a while and ran a store.

 

However, the L.L.M.C is said to have neglected to pay its annual fee of £60 to Lobengula in 1880 and so the Concession was signed over to the Northern Light Gold and Exploration Company, later to become the Tati Company.

 

They re-opened the Tati mines and in 1897, Old Tati was abandoned when Francistown was established further north along the river. Old Tati, from the remnants that are still visible, consisted of stone houses and stone walls on top of the hill.

 

Stone foundations still remain visible today in the area. Prominent in the site today is an old cemetery where two Jesuits priests were buried.

 

On the hill is a standing stone wall of about seven to eight metres high. The real function of the stone wall remains a mystery to this day.

 

On the east of the Old Tati settlement can be found remnants of the New Zealand mine, apparently, the deepest of all the mines in the Tati goldfields going down 360m.

 

About 1.5km from east of Old Tati is the remnants of the Blue Jacket mine, the deepest pre-historic working encountered in the Tati area, 28m.

 

According to records, the mine was named after Blue Jacket Andersen, as is the main street in Francistown, an old time prospector, who seems to have followed the gold rushes, and who distinguished himself by having walked right across the Western Australian desert pushing a wheelbarrow while prospecting.

 

Present day Old Tati lies adjacent to Patayamatebele in the North East district on the northern side of the Tati River. It is a shadow of its former self.

 

Approaching the area from Patayamatebele, nothing captures your attention that once upon a time mining and trade flourished in the area.

 

This is understandable because for many years most of the Old Tati ruins were inside a private farm until it came under government control.

 

The area is surrounded by thick bushes, especially on the banks of the Tati river where the first Jesuit missionaries to Botswana were buried.

 

The two, Father Charles Fuchs SJ (1839-1880) and Father Anthony De Wit SJ (1823-1882) are buried in a cemetery with other seven unmarked graves, except one inscribed with words, ‘IN MEMORY OF JAMES TAYLOR OF KLERKSDORP TRANSVAAL. BORN IN ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND, DIED 23 MARCH 1878 AGED 40 YEARS’.

 

According to Catholic Church records, Old Tati was not only famous for commerce, it was also home to the first Jesuit mission in Bechuanaland.

 

In 1877, a Belgian Jesuit, Father Henri Depelchin SI, was appointed to be the first superior of the new Zambezi Mission.

 

He spent 1878 seeking the necessary church permission and sourcing funds and manpower. He then chose 11 men from a number of European provinces to be the founding members.

 

This included six Fathers and five Brothers from Belgium, Germany, Italy and England. When they arrived in Shoshong, Khama the Christian chief, though receptive, was already under the influence of the London Missionary Society.

 

He challenged the Jesuits why they were doing the same work as the LMS if they were Christians. Depelchin decided to move on northwards where they reached Motloutsie River where they found adequate water.

 

They then proceeded to Tati where they arrived on 17 August 1879. Tati had become an important trading centre and at the time had only 19 European and twenty non-white settlers.

 

The Jesuits were well received by the traders and Depelchin decided to found here at Tati, the first mission of their province, named the Good Hope Mission and later Immaculate Heart of Marry.

 

Plans were afoot to build a chapel, school and establish an orphanage. However, the missionaries faced many challenges such as tropical diseases, lack of funds, lack of transport and manpower.

 

This was responsible for the mission lasting only for a period of six years from 1879 to 1885. Apart from the graves of the two Jesuits missionaries at the cemetery, one of the landmark features is a marble tablet between the graves which contains their names.

 

While the existence of the Jesuit mission has always been in the records of the Catholic church, it was not until 2008 when Mr Azhani Molefhe from Mathangwane, a Catholic himself, came to Patayamatebele on a construction project that the church took a keen interest in the site.

 

While sightseeing on the banks of the Tati River he came across a cemetery and upon closer inspection of the marble tablet he realized that the names were inscribed with Roman Catholic priest titles.

 

“I immediately alerted the church and a delegation was dispatched which included the Bishop, Sisters and Fathers to come and view the site,” he said.

 

The Head of Archaeology and Monuments Division at the Department of National Museum & Monuments, Dr Phillip Segadika in an interview recently explained that the Jesuit tombstones at the former Old Tati site are one of the Botswana’s ancient monuments and are protected by law.

 

He noted that a few years ago the Catholic Church made them aware of the Jesuit missionaries’s tombs.

 

However, he noted that the graves have always been in the museum’s records for a while.

 

Consequently, he explained that research on the site is ongoing and that once complete, the site would be incorporated into the President’s 100 monuments programme whose aim is to identify and develop ancient places of historical significance around the country.

 

“As a department our role is to develop these sites, open access routes, put signage and information boards, hold exhibitions and erect gate houses,” he added.

The monuments, he asserted, would then become part of the Francistown Heritage Trail. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Puso Kedidimetse

Location : FRANCISTOWN

Event : Feature

Date : Oct 25 Wed,2017

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