In and around 1989-1990, various citizen companies expressed interest in developing a commercial retail centre on the undeveloped piece of land located in the centre of Gaborone which belonged to the Botswana Government and was later to become the CBD.
In 1991 – 1992, various citizen companies came together to form the Citizen Investment Group (CIG). It began with five citizen companies and expanded to ten. This group was formed with idea of Batswana pulling together to create a united economic front to ensure that home grown business experience, resources and ingenuity are at the forefront of the development and investment in this piece of land. The group consists of almost 150 beneficial owners, being Batswana from all walks of life ranging from businessmen, professionals, retired persons, farmers and developers.
Speaking at the officially opening on Wednesday on Gaborone infront of delegates including the President of Botswana HE Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, the eloquent Lawrence Khupe, representing the over 160 shareholders said the CIG then formally applied to the government to develop a shopping centre on the land. However, they never received a formal response but there were rumours that some in Government had a preference for allocating the land to companies perceived to purportedly have the financial where with all and experience to develop retail centres of this nature, which in essence meant non-citizen entities. There began the struggle for the CIG to secure the land.
“For almost a decade, the CIG engaged with the Government at various levels with the aim of convincing the powers that be that the land should be allocated to the Group. At some stage, the Government took a decision to hand the land to the Botswana Development Corporation, which decided to team up with a foreign entity with the aim of developing the land. The CIG continued to lobby and engage with the Government to convince it of the need to allow citizens to development the land.
BDC eventually formally withdrew its interest in developing the land. Thereafter there were suggestions within Government that the land be used to create a recreational park. CIG continued to pursue its desire to develop a retail centre on the land, having numerous meetings with and writing letters to the Government.
In the mid-1990s, the Government took the decision to convert the said undeveloped land into the Central Business District (CBD) of Gaborone. To this end, a town planning and land and survey process was undertaken with the formal subdivision survey completed and approved by the Director of Surveys and Mapping in 1997”
In the early 2000s, the Government made a decision to put all plots in the CBD out to tender. The Government should be credited for making citizen ownership and participation a requirement in the tender. The CIG, now formally registered as a company named Smart Partnership Enterprises (Proprietary) Limited, submitted a bid for the nine hectare piece of land which was zoned for mixed use developments. Their bid was successful and Smart Partnership was allocated the land on which we stand being Lot 54349 Gaborone. The shareholders then went about the task of raising the funds to acquire the land from the Government for the sum of P16,818.500. In order to ensure as far as possible the full participation of all the shareholders, the company gave the shareholders time to raise the equity needed in order to fund the purchase of the plot. The shareholders came to the party and on the 8th October 2009, the plot was registered at the Deeds Registry in the name of the company. Now began the task of developing the plot in accordance with the Government’s development covenant, which gave plot holders a limited time to develop, failing which the Government reserved the rights to repossess the plot.
“As the Company considered its options for developing the plot, it encountered many challenges and lost money, having in one instance to completely scrape approved plans and revise same to make the centre more in line with the prospective tenants needs. We encountered challenges with regulatory issues, law suits and pressure to develop. We are grateful that the Government was very co-operative and granted a number of extensions of the development covenant period to allow us time to development the plot. However, in 2015 evidently some in Government grew impatient with the time it was taking the company to develop the plot and informed us of a decision to declare the land forfeited to the Government. In response to this decision, we put into place a plan to engage with the Government to convince them to reverse its decision. As part of the engagement with the Government, I can recall taking on the task of engaging with President Masisi as the then Vice President of Botswana. We met at the Parliament offices. For this we are eternally grateful. The indulgence granted in the form of extensions of time were extended to all other plot holders who were yet to develop”
The development of the plot began with the construction of the four story building located next to this centre, which was completed in 2018.
“Any project of this scale will present its challenges. Extensive time and effort was expended in planning for the development of The Fields Mall. After completion of the plans and obtaining the necessary approvals from the various planning authorities, work on the construction of the centre commenced in September 2020. In terms of timing, it could not have been worse. Finalisation of the planning took place in 2020 when the Covid 19 pandemic was at its worst. Construction began in the middle of the most precarious time of the pandemic, which presented its own challenges including but not limited to human resources catching the virus, securing certain materials with the worldwide supply chain challenges and price escalations arising from demand caused by shortages arising from the worldwide lockdowns. We also encountered and a very high underground water table which resulted in increased structural works. Despite all these challenges, Smart and all the teams involved in the project have been able to complete the development” he concluded.
Some points of interest about the Mall and its development:
● The total lettable area is approximately 26,000m2, consisting of 69 shops
● The estimated total cost of the construction is the sum of P441m
● During construction a total of approximately 750 people were employed
● It is estimated that approximately 2300 people will be employed once the centre is fully occupied. This includes not only people employed by the retailers but also people employed in auxiliary services such as cleaning, maintenance, security and land scaping
● The current development constitutes phase 1. There is provision for the extension of the Mall in future by a further 10,000m2.