As one of the oldest towns in Botswana and site of southern Africa's first gold rush, Francistown, home to 92,500 people, is a typical frontier town, strategically placed as the gateway to the north, with all the main roads to Gaborone , Zimbabwe, Maun and Kazungula passing through it. It manages to maintain its character despite being Botswana's second-largest urban centre and "Capital of the North".
Evidence of human habitation goes back for 80,000 years. In the 1820s, the Ndebele stormed through before coming to rest near Bulawayo, bringing their influences and taxation to the Kalanga territory of north-eastern Botswana. The first European to visit Nyangabgwe (the nearest village to present-day Francistown) was missionary Robert Moffat.
He was followed by Karl Mauch, who discovered gold along the Tati River in 1867, followed soon thereafter with more deposits in the Francistown area itself. Francistown was the site of southern Africa's first "gold-rush". Area hailed as the Ophir of Africa, was rushed by prospectors and adventurers alike to stake their claim of fame and fortune, many coming from as far as Australia and America.
With the rapid influx of people, Daniel Francis - after who Francistown was named - organised the establishment of the town. Initially the town consisted of just one main street lined with bustling western-style saloons and supply stores running parallel to the " Cape to Cairo " railway line.
Many of these old shafts and dumps now litter the urban sprawl, most whose history has long been forgotten, along with the dreams of early pioneers. But the excitement of the times is preserved in the evocative names of some of the mines which remain; ' Phoenix ', ' Bonanza ', ' Jim's Luck ', ' Lady Mary ' and ' White Elephant ' to name but a few. It is not only the mine names which tell a story, the main street in Francistown is still called ' Blue Jacket Street ', and is dedicated to the memory of an old prospector, Sam Andersen. Sam was famous before arriving in Botswana as having been the first man to walk, with little more than his prospecting wheelbarrow, right across Australia's Western Desert. Yet he is immortalized in Francistown for the blue denim jacket that he always wore.
The gold in eastern Botswana is a complicated mix of narrow reefs, which made it very difficult for the early miners to extract, and by the 1940's much of the small scale operations had ceased, leaving the larger mines, which now merely sustain their operations hoping for new finds and an improvement in the gold price.
But today more fortunes are found in Francistown's couple of casinos than in the shallow shafts, and the real buzz is in the city's nightlife. The city boasts a range of good restaurants, sophisticated shopping malls, cinema, night clubs (jazz club called New Yorker), a couple of excellent hotels which offer fully equipped conference facilities, one of the largest referral hospitals in Botswana, an extensive library, sports facilities, well-kept parks and colourful markets.
Nowadays, the city is experiencing an economic boom. In the last few years Francistown has had a near total facelift - to the point that much of its original dusty frontier town atmosphere has disappeared.
Whether you are continuing north to Zimbabwe (90km to the border) or northwest to either Maun or Kasane , Francistown is a good place to purchase any further supplies you may need and fill long-range tanks.