Recent news of BCL having attracted lucrative buyers from the cash spinning economy of Dubai was received with mixed reactions by both Selibe Phikwe residents and Batswana at large. The Selibe Phikwe Economic Revitalization strategy, launched last year November is also facing a number of challenges in delivering on the expected jobs.
Controversy surrounds BCL sale The landing of Arabic Tycoons and their constant visits to Botswana has stirred controversy, particularly on social media, media commentary and the political fraternity. The government is accused of privatizing BCL without consultation and following proper democratic steps to dispose a national asset of BCL’s magnitude. WeekendPost gathered from BCL liquidation critics that government had long wanted to privatize BCL but wanted to trick employees and Batswana by staging a fake insolvency.
“This is by far day light robbery, looking at the money used to liquidate this company and few months later we are told someone is going to buy it, why didn’t the government put BCL under judicial management and scout for investors without being harsh to employees and tricking Batswana,” commented Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Dithapelo Keorapetse.
According to Keorapetse, government had long drawn up a blueprint to loot BCL as BCL ore deposits are one of the high grades in Africa. Reports link BCL disposal masterminding to Mineral Development Corporation Chief Executive Paul Smith. Smith and his Mineral Development Corporation team have been meeting Dubai investors for the past two weeks now. According to reports associated with BCL privatization, liquidation will be manipulated to accommodate fast-tracked handing over of BCL assets to Emirates Investment Group (EIG) led by Abdulla Mangoosh.
“The Tycoons have met Liquidator Nigel Dixon Warren and we are going to witness different kind of events post March 15 after the court sitting, it is expected that final liquidation will not go through,” a source revealed. According to sources the government enclave through Advocate Sadique Kebonang is moving against time to present an attractive deal to the Arabian.
“The arrangements now are moving towards closing everything up to the favour of this Emirates, there will no longer be auction and open bidding of BCL assets as many have been made to believe for the past month, it appears the highest bidder is the Emirates and it is a done deal”
However the unclear undertakings surrounding the BCL disposal have raised eyebrows. Former Minister of Education and Botswana Ambassador to Japan, Jacob Nkate is of the view that selling of BCL assets should have been made a public knowledge, “The Minister responsible should be repeatedly reporting to parliament, to at least put the public and leaders to terms with events surrounding their assets selling,” he said. However not disputing the selling of the company to private investors, Nkate argues that some Batswana and local entities would have been better placed to pop out a stake towards reopening of the mine.
Meanwhile Minister Kebonang, who is in charge of breathing new life to the former copper nickel giant told WeekendPost that the emergency of the matter to strike a deal with the Emirates was of paramount importance before they moved to a different country. “A statement will be delivered to parliament once a direction is clear as to where the investment undertaking is going, we need Batswana’s support, let’s stay away from politics, we are looking at creating jobs here,” he said.
Meanwhile, some in Phikwe are optimistic about the possibility of the mine reopening, regardless of who the new owner is. “BCL sustained Phikwe’s economy and we really don’t care who opens it, whether it’s Motsepe the rich South African who owns Mamelodi Soundowns or the President’s friend, le one maArabea a siame (even the Arabs are fine), we just want our mine to open so as we have business,” said Philip Ngwenya, a taxi man who also hails from the SPEDU region in Bobonong.
Some Phikwe residents however expressed worry that the Arabs might come with their own labour and huge machinery hence few jobs for Phikwe locals. “The other question is will we get our jobs back?, kana manong a ja ka losika (blood is thicker than water) the Arabs are known for keeping it within the family and empowering their own,” a former BCL miner said.
Delayed implementation of revitalization projects Last year November at the commemoration of African Industrialization Day Government through Ministry of Investment, Trade& Industry unveiled the Selibe Phikwe Economic Revitalization Strategy to be implemented under the coordination of former Bank of Botswana Governor Linah Mhohlo with the first quarter of implementation expected to be evident March 1 2017, however some Selibe Phikwe Councillors have decried that the promise is yet to be delivered.
Councillor Sethulwa questioned the Mayor about the promised employment opportunities “Your Worship isn’t this the time we should be seeing job adverts and our youth queuing up since we were told that by March over 2000 jobs would be created ?” Earlier this year Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Nonofo Molefhi who is also Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe East told residents in one of his Kgotla meetings that Phikwe locals especially the youth should prepare their C.Vs for over 2000 jobs geared up for the first payout at the end of March 2017.
Councillor Evelyn Kgodungwe advised the authorities to engage residents and communities more to come up with inclusive ideas that are tailored for them. “We only hear of seminars and hear say about these investors, this projects, initiatives and all, whereas our people are not consulted and engaged further in revitalization undertakings.”
According to Phikwe residents and SPTC Council members it was important for even Mhohlo to have an office in Selibe Phikwe and engage residents, the business community on daily bases to get first hand information on the region’s economic issues.
Poor sanitation and drainage system Selibe Phikwe Councillors are aggrieved by the state of the town’s sanitation and the poor drainage system and say it will hinder efforts to turn the town and region into an investment attractive parameter. Speaking at a full council meeting this past week responding to Mayor Amogelang Mojuta’s address, Councillor Moses Serite of Sesame-Kagiso ward in Distance Township told the council that bad smell caused by drain spills will scare away potential investors.
“When rich people come here to scout for investment opportunities, one drive around town will scare them off because there is a disgusting smell, drainage spills, running waste water and generally poor sanitation in town,” he said adding that the situation would even chase away the Arabians. “Even the wealthy Arabians were about on newspapers will run for their health if the status quo is not changed,” he added.
The full council pleaded that a significant skate from the money allocated to Selibe Phikwe Town Council in the 2017/18 budget be allotted to fixing the town’s sanitation infrastructure and drainage network to ready the town for investors. “ It will be of no use for government to draw up an investment attraction blueprint that entails incentives under the Special Economic Zones initiative at the same time leaving the town in this state,’’ councillors told WeekendPost on Monday after the session
More trouble at Pula Steel Information reaching this publication indicates that Pula Steel Casting & Manufacturing, Botswana’s only steel manufacturing entity, is on its last legs. Currently, government financial lender Citizen Entrepreneurship Agency (CEDA) which is expected to inject capital of over 20 million pula to resuscitate Pula Steel, the brain child of BCL Polaris II and the Verma Family is thinking otherwise. Reports indicate that the Thabo Thamane led agency is objecting to pumping more money into the company under the leadership of Verma who on the other side declined giving up the company’s stewardship.
It is understood that CEDA is gearing up for an application to put Pula Steel under judicial management , although information is still sketchy, this publication was tipped off that Thamane has already put his signature to the paperwork that will be presented to Gaborone high court in a week’s time. Pula Steel, as a project put up to diversify the economy of Selibe Phikwe from mining has faced challenges since its inception and is currently being troubled by creditors who want their millions from the indebted entity.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”