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Selebi Phikwe Post-Mining Economy: The promise and the dream

Botswana’s fifth president, His Excellency Mokgweetsi Masisi took office on April 01, 2018. Welcomed by a heavy down pour, it appears even the heavens approve of the presidency.

But the presidency has a mountain yet to climb with interest to the revitalisation of the ailing economy of Selebi Phikwe and the SPEDU region which suffered a heavy blow following the closure and liquidation of BCL mine. Will Masisi bring hope in the face of the deeply hounded people of Selebi Phikwe? To answer this question, president Masisi declared in his maiden speech as president of the country that his “Government will particularly intensify its efforts to revitalise the economy of the SPEDU region to effectively respond to the closure and liquidation of BCL”.

It is important to note that Masisi was the chairperson of the parliamentary committee that investigated BCL and made recommendation to shut down its operations. It remains to be seen if indeed president Masisi has the will of steel to turn around the economy of a region whose economic mainstay was the mine that he closed.

With his promise to turn things around, it is worth mentioning that several promises have been made since the closure of the mine. There have been attempts to identify opportunities that would invigorate the economy of the town but it seems all this remain a challenge in practice.

Despite his predecessor having been a sworn believer in action-oriented service delivery, there has been no noticeable action on the ground to deliver Selebi Phikwe from the harrows of economic shock that has since suffocated the town of its only capital oxygen being the BCL mine. With the change of guard, the people of Selebi and the SPEDU region can only hope that Government will move swiftly beyond rhetoric and paying lip service to practical programmes and projects.
 

The promises made that have since varnished as a distant dream in the minds of the people of Selebi Phikwe include the classification of Selebi Phikwe as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) where economic value can be unlocked from agribusiness and tourism. However the president noted in his inauguration speech that his Government will expedite the implementation of the SEZ which will contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. If this is finally implemented, it could boost the economy of Selebi Phikwe.

Government through the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) introduced investor fiscal and non-fiscal incentives that include low general tax rates in order to attract investors both domestic and foreign to be able to set up businesses in the SPEDU region.

This incentive package through vigorous marketing and scouting for investors by both SPEDU and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between BITC, SPEDU, Ngwato Land Board, Selebi Phikwe Town Council (SPTC), Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB), Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) and Brite Star Aviation. Brite Star Aviation of Texas signed an agreement with these agencies to build a P1.4 billion aircraft manufacturing and assembly plant in Selebi Phikwe.

The project which was said would be completed in a period of five years was to expand into an eco-safari centre, hotel and conference centre, composite manufacturing plant, aircraft service and maintenance centre as well as a research and development centre that will house a pilot and flight training academy. The project was to create 3000 direct jobs for the region upon completion.

The announcement of this project was welcomed with mixed reactions as some people felt the project prospects seemed too good to be true with others questioning the credibility of the company which appeared to not have enough experience in the aviation space. Perhaps now dampening the hopes of the people of Selebi Phikwe further are the recent reports that seem to confirm Brite Star as a “fly-by-night” company taking its chances with the unsuspecting Government of Botswana.

With the promise of the setup of a company that manufactures mobile telephone handsets and a technology service provider in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Selebi Phikwe having not been fulfilled, doubt was cast over the Brite Star project which seemed bigger in scope than the laptop manufacturing business.

The company was to expand in its second phase to manufacture other electronic goods such as television sets and assembly of computers. Another ICT company which was to provide technology solutions like e-pay solutions and livestock identification solutions is yet to establish in the region as it was promised. Another dead dream.

Another deal, which now it appears, was but a pipe dream was the promise of a Pharmaceutical Medicine Park which for some time the scapegoat for lack of its delivery was that it was undergoing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultative process.

Another initiative is the set up of BIUST campus in Selebi Phikwe. Last year March, parliament adopted a motion by Selebi Phikwe West legislator, Dithapelo Keorapetse, requesting Government to consider relocating the College of Engineering and Technology to Selebi-Phikwe. There is still no sign of the envisaged satellite campus in the town, albeit a year now having passed.

Also last year when addressing a Kgotla meeting in Sefhophe Village, Former president, Lt Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama announced that five manufacturing companies will set up in Selebi Phikwe in the next two years. The unidentified companies are also yet to establish in Selebi Phikwe.

Another company which residents doubt will ever set up in Phikwe is an Oxygen Gas company whose construction was expected to have commenced by the end of the 2017/18 financial year. The company is expected to build an air separation plant for the production of oxygen, nitrogen and other gasses. Even after former president, Lt. Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama appointed former Bank of Botswana governor, Linah Mohohlo to the position of coordinator of Selebi Phikwe Economic Revitalisation programme, nothing much has been achieved so far and the gloomy economic situation continues.

Selebi Phikwe needs immediate rescue lest its virtually collapsing economy causes other more awful consequences worse than the deserting of the town by residents. The social and economic consequences triggered by the decline in population will eventually lead to the loss of the consumer base leading to a non-appealing business environment that will not attract investors.

The lack of the consumer base will also lead to downscaling of the remaining businesses leading to a further loss of jobs. Businesses in Selebi Phikwe either depended entirely or largely on BCL and its employees for capital as they constituted a significant percentage of the buying power.

The story of BCL closure and its devastating consequences have been told several times in graphic details by both political and economic commentators, civil leaders in the town and by former employees of the mine who are the direct victims who were at the eye of the storm when the curtains finally fell. If no urgent interventions are put in place and accelerated, there will be no sign of dawn appearing in sight as dark nights will last forever.

It is now for president Masisi and his administration to stem the tide by implementing achievable recovery strategies and initiatives. In his address to the nation as president, Masisi revealed that Government will prioritise the implementation of a combination of strategies required to stimulate accelerated economic growth noting further that practical and realistic strategies will be implemented as a matter of urgency.

The nation will be watching to see the urgency with which the Masisi administration will zealously embrace the challenges and meaningfully deliver the promise lest the dream of a better Selebi Phikwe post-mining remains a barren dream. A success in turning around the economy of Selebi Phikwe will serve as demonstration that in the event Botswana diamonds get depleted, Orapa and Jwaneng will not become another Selebi Phikwe. It will also serve as signal that the Government can indeed achieve economic transformation and diversification which the nation desperately needs to move away from over-dependence on diamonds as the economic mainstay.

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Botswana confirms new COVID-19 variant

17th May 2021
covid19

Botswana health officials have confirmed the new COVOD-19 variant, which was first found in India. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has through a press statement informed members of the public that a new COVID-19 variant (B.1.617), first discovered in India. The Indian variant was confirmed in Botswana on 13 May 2021.

According to Christopher Nyanga, spokesperson at the Ministry, this followed a case investigation within Greater Gaborone, involving people of Indian origin who arrived in the country on the 24th April 2021.

“As at 16 May 2021, the B. 1. 617 variant was confirmed in two (2) people. The clients are currently receiving medical care and remain stable with no life-threatening symptoms. The two (2) cases were part of 383 people (both Batswana and some Indian nationals) who were tested for COVID-19. From this number, 43 tested positive, with two (2) showing the B. 1. 617 variant as already alluded to. Contact tracing has been expanded in line with COVID-19 protocols. All contacts and confirmed cases have been evacuated to facility based quarantine and isolation respectively, for close monitoring,” Nyanga narrated.

The World Health Organization recently announced that the Indian Covid-19 variant was a global concern, with some data suggesting the variant has “increased transmissibility” compared with other strains.

Meanwhile in the wake of Botswana’s confirmation of the Indian variant, Nyanga reminded the public of the government intervention to control the introduction of new variants of public health concern into the country. He stated that all those who have travelled or transited through areas of high risk as previously communicated on 3rd May 2021 upon return shall immediately quarantine in a central area to be identified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness for a period not exceeding ten (10) days; Repeat Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test after seven (7) days of quarantine and be discharged as per the outcome of the results.

He said the requirements are complementary to the mandatory requirements of producing on arrival a negative PCR test not older than 72hrs from the time the sample was collected

“The public is advised to remain vigilant and minimize the spread of COVID-19 by following the already outlined preventative measures such as washing of hands with soap or use of a hand sanitizer, wearing of face masks, avoiding crowded places/social distancing and avoiding non-essential movement,” Nyanga said.

The India variant – officially called B.1.617.2 – is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus which have been designated as being “of concern” by transitional public health bodies, with others first being identified in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.

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Khama lawyers dismiss BDP’s MacD

17th May 2021
former President Lt Gen Ian Khama

The lawyers representing former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, Ramalepa Attorneys have come forth dismissing a response letter penned down by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activist MacDonald Peloetletse after he was slapped with a P1.5 million lawsuit for defamation of their client.

Tebogo Tladi, an attorney at Ramalepa, said last week Thursday Peloetletse took to social media to publish a substantively false, wrongful and unlawful statement about Khama. MacDonald Peloetletse’s commentary which was posted on Gabz FM News page reads, “I am a former soldier. Everything former President SKI Khama said here is a LIE. In fact, soldiers suffered more under Khama than under his predecessors.

He actually stole money that the UN had paid to the soldiers who went for the operations and paid them less than a quarter of what was actually due to them.  “Unhappy soldiers took the BDF to court and won, the BDF is still struggling to pay the debts! Khama can fool some people, but not all the people and not all the time.

“In fact many soldiers, serving, retired and those that resigned and were in the operations during Khama’s time get even more annoyed to such disrespectful statements by Ian Khama.” Khama’s lawyer says the impugned statement was published with the intention to injure his client (Khama) in his personality rights, good name and dignity, further indicating that the statement has damaged his good reputation.

“We have therefore been instructed by Client to demand, as we hereby do, that you publish on the same forum a retraction and a full and unconditional apology to Client within three days of receipt of this letter- and that you deliver such apology in a formal letter to the Office of the Former President, Dr Khama. In the event that you have not compiled with this demand by close of business on Monday 10th May 2021, our Client will assume that you have refused to comply with this demand.”

To top it all off, Khama demands that Peloetletse pay him P1.5 million in damages for defamation. “Furthermore, we hold instructions to demand as we hereby do, that you pay our Client damages for defamation in the sum of P1, 500,000.00 within seven days of receipt of this letter.” In the event that Peloetletse fails to pay the amount of damages demanded by Khama, Tladi says they will institute legal proceedings for the recovery of the aforesaid damages.

In his response letter addressed to Ramalepa Attorneys, Peloetletse said that he requests enlightenment and clarification that he be provided with proof that the allegations and comments which they attribute to him were indeed authored by him and that the platform which the comments were placed was not hacked.

“Please also advise if whether your clients has been endowed with a “special particular privilege status” that restricts the citizens of this country from commenting or responding to public statements made by your client in the course of political discourse especially when made on public forum and relate to matters of general public concern. (I trust that your brilliant legal mind is well informed with respect to the jurisprudence in such matters)”.

Peloetletse also said he would like to share with the attorneys a video which was posted on a public forum. “Please listen carefully to the conversations and discussion herein and advice if possibly such discussions form a reasonable basis for a justifiably rebuttal by any Motswana Citizen to the public pronouncements and defamatory statements made by your client about our government (bearing in mind of course a citizens constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression).’’

Consulted for further comment on the matter on Thursday after receiving Peloetletse’s response, Khama’s attorney Tebogo Tladi said the letter doesn’t hold any water. “The only way out for him is to prove the truth of the allegations on his comment or deny publication. He does not answer substantively to the defamation and does not respond to the demand of an apology or payment of damages.

So his letter really contains largely matters irrelevant to the substance of the letter of demand. His response in fact presents no legally cognizable defence at all- it would appear he responded without the benefit of legal advice, which would not be prudent for such an important case. So we will proceed to issue summons and wait to see what defences he will plead in court.’’

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Inside the multi-million Dollar Kazungula Bridge business

17th May 2021
kazungula bridge

Botswana and Zambia this week celebrated the opening of a multi-million Dollar infrastructural project, the Kazungula Bridge, projected to contribute around P100 million annually for Botswana. This project comes after the signing of the 2012 Agreement between the two countries to construct a bridge that would ease movement of goods.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the Kazungula Bridge will open avenues for improved trade, job creation and economic diversification in both countries. Further, the Bridge will significantly accelerate Southern African Development Committee (SADC) regional integration agenda which Botswana and Zambia are vigorously pursuing.

“By growing our strategic partnerships through this project, we have improved the development and competitiveness of our economies to attract more private sector investment, thereby, supporting our efforts to create employment, especially for the burgeoning youth,” Masisi said at the opening ceremony in Kazungula on Monday.

The Kazungula Bridge comprises a road and rail bridge over the Zambezi River, directly linking Botswana and Zambia. It has One-Stop-Border Post facilities on both sides, which will enhance the operational efficiency at entry points, replicated on both sides of the boarder.

The Bridge was originally conceived as a critical link in the African North-South Corridor under the African Union’s New Partnership (NEPAD) for Africa’s Development programme. It has since evolved to encompass a multimodal transport plan under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

The PIDA programme, which encompasses liberalisation of air travel, rail links, road, water and all other modes of transport has only one objective: to unite the States of Africa in order to foster trade on the continent

“Connectivity of our nations will in no small measure, promote people to people interactions and uplifts their standard of living. I am pleased to state that the completion of this project is a clear demonstration of our commitment to PIDA.”

The 260 million US Dollar Kazungula Bridge was commissioned by Zambian President, Edgar Lungu and President Masisi. President Lungu said the bridge was a monumental effort linking Zambia internally and externally to ease the movement of goods and services.

“I have held talks with my counterpart in Botswana that this project must run daily up to 22 hours as soon as possible and you the technocrats must not play ping-pong with us after making these public procurements,” Lungu said at the official opening in Kazungula.

For his part, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said the project was tandem with the Africa Union (AU) goals and priority areas for Agenda 2063 which called for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

KAZUNGULA FERRY

The new Kazungula Bridge replaces the Kazungula Ferry, a pontoon ferry across the 400-metre-wide Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia. It was one of the largest ferries in South-Central Africa, having a capacity of 70 tonnes.

In 2003 the ferry was the site of a disaster when a severely overloaded Zambian truck capsized one of the pontoons and 18 people drowned. The accident was blamed on the lack of weighbridges in Zambia to check the weight of trucks.

In August 2007, the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to construct a bridge at the site to replace the ferry. The existence of a short boundary of about 150 meters between Zambia and Botswana was apparently agreed to during various meetings involving Heads of State and officials from all four States in the 2006-2010 period.

The route for this new bridge crosses the boundary without entering Zimbabwe and Namibia. Zimbabwe already has a bridge into Zambia at Victoria Falls, 70KM from Kazungula. Namibia on the other hand has a bridge into Zambia at Katima Mulilo about 150KM upriver.

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