The ongoing provisional liquidation of BCL has left many in great suspense in the once smoking town of Selebi-Phikwe, as well as arguably a significant crush in the national economic operations.
WeekendPost takes a brief recap of both government and private sector efforts put in place to diversify the Selibe Phikwe economy over the past years, as well as an in-depth look on the current proposed resuscitation plans. The story of Selebi Phikwe can be traced back to the early 1970s, when the mining town was established to house and service the employees of the then BCL, a copper and nickel mine which began operations in 1973.
Originally there were two settlements, Selebi and Phikwe with livestock keeping and mixed farming activities. The settlements enclosed the then rich, unexploited deposits of nickel and copper in the area. When the minerals were discovered, the mine and township were built on the land between the two villages, and their names were combined to Selebi-Phikwe, the name we know today.
Upon realization of the possible economic crush of the town post copper and nickel depletion, the government introduced the Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) in the late 90s under which foreign investors were granted capital to setup manufacturing businesses, mainly in the textile industries through government investment arm, Botswana Development Corporation (BDC).
Member of Parliament for Selebi-Phikwe West, Hon Dithapelo Keorapetse, reminded the government of this failed efforts last week in his response to the National Development Plan 11, which was presented by Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo a fortnight ago. Keorapetse labelled the disaster in Phikwe today, a result of neglect, carelessness and lack of proper planning by the government of the day.
“There were many textile industries under Botswana Development Corporation partly owned by foreign investors who after enjoying tax holidays took profits and returned to their countries.” Keorapetse noted that this was because of government overly focusing on foreign investment and totally neglecting fostering domestic investment. He labelled such investors as pseudo fly by night business people who tricked the lazy thinkers in government.
In 2008 a number of textile factories were shut down and consequently over 2000 jobs were lost, leaving the Phikwe economy more dependent on BCL for employment. BDC also had to liquidate Talana farm, a mainly horticultural farm which employed hundreds of furfural settlers, as one of its failed projects in the region, although the farm operated for a number of years before new BDC management decided to let it go.
Another missed opportunity that is consistently noted as lack of planning by the government was the building of Botswana University of Science and Technology (BUIST) in Palapye instead of Selebi-Phikwe. Dithapelo Keorapetse explains that Selebi-Phikwe should have been turned into the Graham‘s town and Stellenbosch of Botswana where the economy is knowledge based and sustained by a world class university (University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University).
“When expects advised that the second university be built in Phikwe, it was instead taken to Palapye, an already commercial town,’’ noted Keorapetse who added that, “there were discussions that Selebi-Phikwe technical college be expanded , but rather funds were diverted to Gaborone Technical College , and on top of that propositions that the college of applied arts be built in Phikwe were rubbished and it was taken to a more sustainable and economically congested south side of the country in Oodi!’’
Keorapetse observed that for over 40 years, government failed to add more value to the copper and nickel extracted in Phikwe. He noted that to add to mining, concentrating, and smelting which were BCL’s main operations, other metallurgical undertakings should have been explored to plan for post ore depletion .
Notably in the records of Selebi-Phikwe economic diversification is a massive undertaking by BCL; the beyond 2020 Polaris II initiative which the authorities believed was to be a huge turnaround in the economy of the town. To date the Polaris II financial figures alone account for more than 7 billion BCL debts and arguably the reason why the town has more than 5000 unemployed inhabitants today.
Again quoted during the BCL liquidation shocking news weeks ago, Keorapetse explained the Polaris II was a corrupt undertaking which cash striped BCL mine. Under the Polaris II, there were a string of un-procedural procurement transactions and multimillion pula questionable contracts. The Polaris II saw the purchase of all Norilsk Operations in Africa by BCL limited which include Nkomati mine in South Africa and Tati Nickel
Mine in Francistown, at a tune of P3 billion, more than 100 million Pula injection into Pula Steel Manufacturing, over 700 million Pula refurbishment of BCL smelter, all done in good will of keeping the BCL alive and a significant employer post ore deposits depletion.
Also, there is Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) a government placed organ that could have possibly, if implemented correctly, turned Phikwe into Botswana’s investment and economic hub.
However, today, SPEDU is accused of misplacing 1.4 million pula in its rebranding exercise, further the parastatals established in 2008 is accused of chewing more than 200 million pula taxpayers’ money on administration only, since its inception 8 years ago. However the tangible diversification the parastatal has undertook is yet to be witnessed.
Meanwhile, this past week, a press release from SPEDU written by SPEDU‘s Community Economic facilitation Director, James Mathokgwane titled “The truth behind SPEDU’s rebranding” explains that SPEDU became a full fleshed company just 18 month ago.
Prices for cereals or staple foods in Botswana and other Southern African countries continue to rise at a slower pace, following trends in the global markets, according to the latest November 2022 Food Price Monitoring and Analysis by Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
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Botswana Institution Of Engineers (BIE), has last week hosted a gala dinner in which they appreciated engineers who worked tirelessly and with dedication for 10 years from 1983 to steer the BIE to its current status.
The event that was held at the Phakalane Golf Estate had brought together young, experienced and veteran engineers and was held under the theme “Vitalize the dignity and eminence of all professional engineers”.
Explaining the theme, the institution’s treasurer, Thanabalasingam Raveendran said that engineers were looked upon reverentially with respect as the educated but with time it seems to have deteriorated. He indicated that there is a need to change the narrative by all means.
“The BIE exists for the welfare and the betterment of us Botswana engineers, we need to recognize specialised units within our Institution. We Engineers strongly believe in Engineers make it happen” Raveendran said.
He indicated that under the theme they appeal to all engineers to energize, to attain quality of being worthy of honour and respect and to achieve recognized superiority amongst the Society.
Raveendran stated that engineers need to ensure their end product is of good quality satisfying the end users expectations and engineers must be honest in their work.
“Approximately 8000 engineers registered with Engineering Regulatory Board (ERB) are not members of the BIE, engineers need to make every effort to recruit them to BIE” he said.
He alluded that BIE being a society, it currently needs to upgrade itself at par with professional institutions elsewhere like the UK and USA.
He further stated that BIE has to have engineering units of specialised disciplines like Civil/Mechanical/electrical etc
“As President Masisi indicated in his inaugural speech, the young people, who make 60 percent of the population of this country, are the future leaders and therefore investing in them is building the bridge to the future” said Raveendran
Kandima indicated that BIE has a memorandum of Understanding with Engineers Registration Board (ERB), where BIE is a recognised provider of CPD training, mentorship programmes and more importantly IPD undertaking to upgrade the skills and know-how of our engineers.
“For us to achieve our mandate and make worthwhile changes to engineering in Botswana, we have to be totally focused and act with intent” said Kandima.
Furthermore, Stephen Williams, past president of the BIE from 1986-1988 told the engineers that the BIE provides a fertile environment where they can meet, share ideas and grow professionally.
“The BIE is also a nesting place for graduate engineers to learn from their peers and seniors, it also cater for engineering technicians and technologists and so nobody in the technology field is left out” he said.
He further indicated that Botswana Government provides a conductive environment for growth of engineering professionals.
“It must be stated that the Botswana Government recognises the existence of BIE and it can further be stated that the government enables ERB to carry out its mandate as a regulator of engineering professionals” said Williams
He plead with engineering companies to recognize and support BIE as it is the only source of engineering personnel’s for various Industries .
Furthermore, when giving his farewell speech, Michael Pinard , a past president of the institution said how they are viewed as engineers by the general public might be due to some lack of appreciation as to exactly what role they play in the development of the country.
“The BIE slogan is aptly coined-Engineers make it happen, in other words, what man dreams engineers create” Said Pinard.