When it was announced that Thata Father Maphongo would become the mayor of Gaborone, many wondered who he was and where he came from.
“You see due to my physical appearance which is not appealing to many people, some thought I was an old man who is at the pearly gates,” he chuckles.
Born and bred in Shashe Mooke in the Central District, he grew up in Francistown before moving to Gaborone for greener pastures. Maphongo said politics has always been part of his life.
“We are all politicians and the difference is how we participate in the political space, some are in the frontline while others do things behind the scenes,” he said.
Though there is perception that he doesn’t have adequate experience as a politician to run the capital city, he insists that he possesses the necessary experience to make a difference.
The diamond city
When the De Beers Global Sightholder Sales (DBGSS) was moved from London to Gaborone it was declared that Gaborone will be turned into a diamond city.
Seven years later, the city is yet to resemble anything close to a diamond city due to unmaintained roads, littering, roaming livestock and malfunctioning street and traffic lights.
“My first priority is to build a diamond city and as you might be aware a diamond is sparkling therefore the most basic thing to do is clean the city,” said the soft-spoken Mayor of Gaborone.
He said they have already started the Clean City Campaign and have recently spent around P20 000 during the fill up the litter bag campaign where locals were paid P30 for each bag of litter that they brought.
“That was not a payment but just a token of appreciation to the city dwellers and we were very impressed because a number of embassies participated,” he said.
To ensure that they make Gaborone very clean, Maphongo said they will have to collaborate with villages/towns around the city – the greater Gaborone.
“I had meeting with council chairpersons and mayors around Gaborone to try and find ways that we can work together to make our area very clean and attractive to visitors,” he said.
Segoditshane River – a tourist attraction
One of the ways of bringing life into the city, according to Maphongo, is to turn Segoditshane River into a tourist attraction.
“We could dam the river at its confluence and make it perennial and have walkways along it and boat cruising but that will be determined by the partnership that we will have with the private sector, which have the capacity to turn it around,” he said. He revealed that every last Thursday of the month will be a cleaning day where residents will be fully involved.
Potholes, street and traffic lights
Most of roads in Gaborone have potholes and the recent rains have exacerbated the situation. Mayor Maphongo admits that it is of great concern for the city officials.
“We are doing everything possible to fill up the potholes,” he said, adding that the main challenge is that the roads were built first before the storm water drainage system.
“We must address the storm water drainage system first because we can repair the roads but once rains come they will wipe out the tarmac,” said Maphongo.
Though regarded as the diamond city, Gaborone becomes dark in the evening giving petty thieves opportunity to pounce on pedestrians robbing them of their precious items. To address the dark city problem, Maphongo revealed that they have procured 54 tower lights which will be installed by the end of March this year to lighten up the city.
“Then by the beginning of April we will install another 30 tower lights around the city and this will be complemented by installation of solar street lights,” he added. On the traffic lights, Maphongo revealed that they are installing the intelligent traffic system which will be able to detect the flow of traffic and manage it efficiently.
The mushrooming of shopping complexes around the city as well the development of CBD has rendered Gaborone’s main mall into a ghost centre with little economic life there except government offices and NGOs.
Maphongo, who is also the executive Chairman of Bayport financials, said that their aim is to turn the main mall into cultural hub.
Leaning forward on his chair, with his eyes brightening up, Maphongo said that they want to bring life to the main mall, especially in the evening. He said performing artists will be allocated space where they can showcase their products.
One of the main challenges is the informal sector operators who are always clashing with council officials. He assured that they are not going to chase them away but rather bring decency and order.
“We are going to license them – we will not allow squatting,” he warned.
To ensure that the SMMEs are supported, he said they are going to have charity events like Mayor’s marathon and football tournament whose proceedings will be used to up skill the SMMEs.
Put to him that in the past these kinds of events have been questioned by councillors citing corruption by those entrusted in running them, Maphongo indicated that he will be transparent.
“I am from the financial sector and will ensure that everything is done in a transparent way and no funds will be channelled to my personal account,” he promised.
From time immemorial Gaborone City Council has struggled with collection of rates/service levy and with the new mayor oozing with confidence that they will transform the city, we asked him how they will turn things around.
“The council was not actively collecting the rates as they waited for guidelines from the parent ministry and it took time. We have since managed to convince them to allow us to start collecting rates to help us sustain the council coffers,” he said.
Maphongo admitted that lot of people are in arrears and as such they are going to collect in a very decent and human way.
On calls to have councils operate independent from the Ministry of Local government to generate them to generate their own income, he jolted up before declaring – “If I cannot be allowed to be independent in executing my mandate, I won’t be able to deliver and there will be no reason for me to be here”.