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IMPENDING EVICTIONS OF FORMER BCL EMPLOYEES FROM HOUSES-MY PLEA FOR STAY OF EXECUTION OF THE LIQUIDATOR’S HOUSING DECREE

1. The above captioned matter bears substantive reference.

2. I write on behalf of former BCL employees, Phikwe residents in general and Phikwe West constituents in particular. I’ve written a letter to the President of the Republic titled “the Town of Selibe-Phikwe and BCL Mine Reopening issues” dated 21st August 2018, the same hasn’t been replied by Office of the President. Please also refer to that letter.  

3. I’ve raised this issue in various Parliament debates, questions, themes and motions and Bills (e.g. Appropriation Bills).

4. You are fully appraised on BCL liquidation issues and I assume you’ve all the details, I will therefore not belabor the point.

5. I have raised the following complaints about BCL and equally offered solutions:

5.1. That the mine shouldn’t have been closed/operations ceased and placed under liquidation, it ought to have been restructured and recapitalized or put under judicial management and that it should be open forthwith in light of the rising copper and nickel prices in the international market.

5.2. That former BCL employees should have been paid adequate compensation equivalent to at least retrenchment packages to deal with their abrupt loss of Jobs and consequent socio-economic upset.

5.3. That the liquidation process only serves to extract from the taxpayer with no clear and tangible returns, that I’ve received worrying Care and Maintenance reports suggesting that the nation’s assets at BCL are not properly taken cared for e.g. reports of shafts flooding, problems with lighting or electricity and air circulation and or occupational health and safety concerns. I’ve suggested immediate removal of the BCL Liquidator and the transfer of Care and Maintenance into a government entity set up for same or an already existing public vehicle such as MDCB. I was also informed, in part by you, that the Director of Mines has invoked his powers under the Mine, Quarries, Works and Machinery Act to intervene and that there wasn’t cooperation from the liquidator.

5.4. That Government should not evict former BCL employees residing in the mine houses until the mine reopens and that government should ensure that the liquidator doesn’t effect evictions. The ex-miners have petitioned your government through the District Commissioner’s Office in Phikwe on their desire to continue staying in BCL houses.

6. You’ve told Parliament that the relationship between your government and the liquidator has broken down irretrievably, you’ve implicitly and explicitly stated that the liquidator has been uncooperative, deceptive, unreasonable and hasn’t taken proper and adequate care of the mine assets and that you have initiated a process through the Attorney General to have him legally removed.

7. I have informed you through our verbal, telephonic and Whatsaap communication as well as our Parliamentary exchanges that the Liquidator has written letters to former BCL employees residing in the company houses informing them that end of January 2019 the House leases will expire or terminate, that they will have to vacate the houses and that those wishing to continue staying beyond the lease expiry will have to pay rent. Some former miners have vacated the houses to avert a catastrophe of abrupt evictions.

7.1. You and I agreed in principle that the aforementioned scenario proposed by the liquidator is untenable and undesirable.

7.2. The Liquidator has informed me that government hasn’t paid rent for former miners or words to that effect, that the agreement with government on the former miners stay is supposed to be financially supported by the government.

7.3. The liquidator alleges serious financial sabotage by your office in what he describes as a systematic refusal to fund ex-miners’ stay in BCL houses, he views this posture by your government as a ploy to frustrate him out of his job he is assigned by the High Court on your recommendation.

8. The undesirable results of the Liquidator’s housing decree taking effect are most likely to be inter alia:

8.1. It will result in mass exodus of people from the town of Selebi-Phikwe, consequently the Town will be desolate and or become a ghost town. This will exacerbate the already degraded socio-economic conditions.

8.2. The vacant houses will be vandalized, valuables stolen from the properties and will undoubtedly become havens for criminals, the Town will become too dangerous.

8.3.  It has become clear from the Liquidator that institutions such as BDF, Police, SPTC, government departments and other possible group and individual tenants may not occupy the BCL houses because anytime an investor may buy the mine and operate it and need the houses thereby disrupting whoever is staying in these houses. It would appear that this is what deters institutions and individuals from occupying these residential properties. No one seems to be ready to sign a lease that states “you can be removed any day if the need arises”. This therefore means the houses are likely to be vacant with no new tenants following the execution of the liquidator’s order.

8.4. The list of rental prices for BCL residential properties was circulated by the liquidator and clearly they are exorbitant by both Botswana and Phikwe standards. The feedback to the MPs office is that these prices are exorbitantly unaffordable to many Batswana and institutions of government.

8.5. Some houses have been vacant from the day the mine closed, some have been vandalized and are getting dilapidated. What would happen if more houses become vacant? More are becoming vacant daily.

8.6. The disruption on the teaching and learning will be enormous; learners will have to be transferred en masse with deleterious consequences.

8.7. Public Health repercussions cannot be discounted; patients on various treatments for chronic conditions and diseases, former miners who are being treated for injuries, the environmental health and other health related issues are anticipated.

8.8. There is likely to be demographic distortions or upsets if the housing decree is effected. 

9. I pleaded, I’m pleading and will continue to plead with your good Ministry to intervene in this matter by:

9.1. Preventing the liquidator from executing his eviction of former BCL employees from the houses and or rescinding his decision to terminate leases and or levy rent from the former miners. This can be done in different ways; negotiating with the liquidator whilst his removal is being pursued in Court; or moving an urgent application arguing that the eviction will result in the decline of the property value and or that it is not a prudent decision as far as safeguarding the properties is concerned; or by expediting the firing of the liquidator and transferring the assets to a government entity as I have suggested. Alternative relief can be sought in Court with similar objectives.

9.2. Please Find a way of making sure that the already vacant houses are occupied to safeguard their value and or status.

10. I plead with you to end BCL liquidation by transferring care and maintenance into a government entity and to forthwith work on reopening of the mine for job creation and resuscitation of the town’s economy.

10.1. The liquidator estimates the environment liability (rehabilitation) to be around P 2.8 billion. I suggest that the government set up a BCL Environmental Rehabilitation Liability Trust and put the above stated amount in it for same, royalties and taxes at the agreed amount should also go into this trust, this will serve as an incentive for investors…i.e. investors are deterred by this exorbitant rehabilitation liability which renders them unable to buy and operate the mine.

10.2. The government should provide other incentives to lure investors.

10.3 Copper and Nickel are selling at high prices in the international market, predictions by market observers are good primarily because of the advent of electric and hybrid cars, construction in China and other demands elsewhere. That’s why the reopening is imperative.

11. Please treat this mater as urgent. Your cooperation will be appreciated. Sir I am available for a meeting to discuss this important matter at your convenience.

Yours faithfully
Dithapelo Lefoko Keorapetse
MP, Selebi-Phikwe West

 

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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