If you’ve taken a walk along Haskins Street lately you’ll probably have noticed at least two things – a fleet of mini-trucks offloading and loading from the limited parking spots.
You might have seen overflowing rubbish bins and stacks of refuse bags. You might even have had to sidestep the mass of trash and litter that hug the street’s narrow walkway.
There’s no way you’d have missed the dilapidated shops and the ever-present enticing aroma emanating from the small, crudely constructed stalls of the many food vendors that line the street.
To many Francistowners who have seen the town grow from nothing into one of the most vibrant places in Southern Africa, the current Haskins Street is an embarrassment to the second Capital.
As the oldest street in The Ghetto, Haskins Street, now nicknamed ‘Bulawayo Street’, used to be the real deal. It boasted of some of the best establishments, including Patrick Daniel, Francistown Cafe, Dona Cafe, John Craig, Tati Hotel and Grand Lodge.
It was the heartbeat of the former gold city, a place where friends met to unwind and welcome or bid farewell to acquaintances boarding and leaving the train.
What was once a centre of creative energy for city slickers and Ghetto’s elite has been turned into a huge warehouse for Chinese traders, who are shipping cheap garments and electrical appliances to Zambia, Zimbabwe and lately Lesotho.
While this influx of foreign customers has created a lucrative market for many local vendors, the street named after Francistown’s business pioneer has taken a beating and has long lost its sparkle.
Unlike Blue Jacket Street, which will soon undergo a facelift, there’s no plan to regenerate Haskins Street and save it from urban decay and crime.
At the rate at which things are going, this once-proud street will soon be a no go area for most of the city’s residents.
A concerned Francistowner, who’s also General Director and Executive Chairman of EBAT Consultants (Pty) Ltd, Ogomoditse Maruapula believes the street is an eyesore that requires immediate intervention.
Maruapula feels Haskins Street needs to go back to its vibrant roots with a mix of restaurants, coffee shops, craft shops, retail and clothing boutiques.
“There’s not much there to draw the inner-city public and the fun loving youth. It is filthy, which is really bad because it’s along the railway line,” he laments.
Maruapula, who sits on many forums in the city, says what needs to be done first is identify the biggest landowners on the street.
“Who owns these shops? Why aren’t they being repaired?” he questions rhetorically.
He notes that Botswana Railways own a huge chunk of land along the street and should therefore play a meaningful role in its upkeep.
“Their train brings tourists into our city and Haskins Street is the first impression they make about Francistown. Which investor would come to a rundown street like that?” queried Maruapula.
“The Francistown City Council also receives rates from business owners and should be doing more to ensure the street remains attractive!” he continued, further urging all stakeholders to be actively involved in what government does.
“It is important to know what our government is doing with regards to Francistown. Another issue we need to look at is the licencing of Chinese shops. They all seem to be selling exactly the same things, how do they get trading licences?” wondered Maruapula.
The businessman suggested there should be regular clean-up sessions in the city centre where government and private entities come together for the sake of the city.
“There should be tough love from our civic leaders. At some point no one should be allowed to park their mini-truck all day in the city parking spot selling vegetables.
“The long talked about horticulture market should be up and running. All the big cities in the world have such markets. Let’s enforce some of these resolutions and allow our city to exhale,” he concluded with a heavy sigh.
However, a vendor, Evelyn Mongwa, who’s been selling food on the street since 2015, is having none of it.
Mongwa insists the Chinese shops are a blessing to small medium businesses and finds nothing wrong with the street.
“The shops here are old, what did you expect? Zimbabweans who come to buy here are a good market for us. This street is for us, if people want flashy shops they should go to other malls and indulge in their fancy and expensive food,” she says dismissively.