We are still digesting the shocking news which we woke up to on the weekend of the 8th of October; “BCL mine placed under provisional liquidation.
” The news which we have been dreading to hear all along finally came. We all knew that BCL, just like any other mine have been facing challenges mainly due to the depressed commodity prices on the international market. We never thought it would come to this level. One thing which is certain is that the closure of the mine will send ripple effects not only in the mining town of Selibe Phikwe, Francistown and surrounding areas but the whole economy of Botswana. Francistown will be affected even more as Tati Nickel Mine, a subsidiary of BCL has also been closed. Palapye and surrounding areas will also feel the pinch as the Morupule coal mine will be affected given than BCL was the major consumer of Morupule coal.
The placing of BCL under provisional liquidation comes at a time when we are still recovering from the closure of Boseto and African Copper mines throwing many workers into the streets. The negative multiplier effects will be severe and will have long lasting effects on the whole economy at large. It will no longer be business as usual.
Brief history of BCL
BCL formation can be traced back to August 1956 when a meeting, arranged by John Buchanan, Chairman of Minerals Separation Limited, took place between Tshekedi Khama, Regent of the Bangwato Tribe in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (The Republic of Botswana) and Sir Ronald Prain, Chairman of Roan Selection Trust (RST). At the meeting an agreement was reached between the two men, which was later signed on the 2nd of June 1959 and subsequently ratified by the British House of Lords and led to the formation of Bamangwato Concessions Limited (later to be renamed BCL Limited), to prospect, explore and mine Copper and Nickel ore discovered in the present day township of Selebi Phikwe.
BCL produces two types of finished matte containing nickel, copper, and cobalt and to a smaller extent precious and platinum group metals. It is the second largest private sector employer in the country with a labour force of +/-4200. It consumes just under 20% of total electricity usage in Botswana or 43% of BPC’s own power generation.
The aftershock effects
The direct effect is the loss of jobs and income for some +/-4200 workers who were employed by the mine. Companies that were subcontracted will also close further putting more workers on the streets. The indirect jobs that will be lost are even more. Palapye town will be affected as Morupule Coal mine will probably downsize operations as BCL was the biggest user of its coal. The hospitality sector around Selibi Phikwe and Francistown areas will be crippled, if not likely close altogether in the case of Phikwe. The retail sector will face a significant decline in business activity and most will be forced to relocate from Phikwe. This in turn will reduce the business activity of the town ie the transport sector, education sector, food outlets, fuel suppliers, property sectors etc.
The property sector will be affected as the decline in occupancy and property demand will have an effect on valuations. The list is endless and the negative multiplier effects will be severe.
Government revenue in the form of taxes will also be constrained due to the reduced business activities that will follow. This will have an impact on the government fiscal balance at a time when diamond prices are not doing very well. Already Lerala Diamond mine is reportedly planning to scale down production and retrench.
The country’s current account and Balance of Payments positions will also worsen. The mining sector at large contributes over 35% towards government revenue.
Banks not spared either. The banking sector is not spared either. Impairments are likely to spike especially from unsecured facilities extended to the mine directly, mine employees and other related companies exposed to BCL. The list is endless and the negative multiplier effects will be severe. Some of government enterprises will not be spared either.
Already Botswana Railways is reportedly facing a P20mn reduction in business revenue from BCL. Water Utilities Corporation will also have to scale down its operations as it has been supplying bulk water to the mine.
Where to from here…
The liquidator report is likely to come up with 2 recommendations.
(1) Complete shutdown of the mine (which is highly unlikely)
(2) Scaling down of the mine operations and closure of some of the shafts which are unprofitable. (This is highly likely, although we cannot rule out some job losses)
There are many lessons to be derived from the placing of BCL mine under provisional liquidation. Once again this has shown the need to speed up the diversification of the country’s economy away from the mining sector. Although there has been some movements in this regard as shown by the growth of the non-mining sector over the years and the decline of the mining sector contribution to the economy from levels around 31% of GDP in 2004 to levels around 13% of GDP as at 31 December 2015. What we can agree is that the speed of the diversification process is not moving at a pace that we want. The pace has been slow. BCL smelter can be the game changer
BCL has been making losses for some years, but we believe there is still value in the copper/nickel mining company and some of the shafts that are not profitable have to be shut down if the mine is to operate efficiently and profitable. The BCL smelter is one of the project we believe has the potential not only to contribute positively towards the profitability of BCL but also turn Botswana into a hub for the smelting and refining of copper/nickel in the region. With a capacity to treat up to 850 000mt of nickel/copper concentrates per annum, the smelter is large enough to absorb all the smelting requirements of all nickel/copper miners in the region as it is the only copper/nickel smelter in the region.
This is because it will be uneconomical for other small mining companies in the region to build their own refineries given the large capital outlay that is required to build one. It is estimated that the current BCL smelter has a replacement value of between US$2bn and US$3bn.
FaR Property Company (FPC) Limited, a property investment company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, has recently announced its exceptional financial results for the year 2023. The company’s property asset value has risen to P1.47 billion, up from P1.42 billion in the previous year.
FPC has a diverse portfolio of properties, including retail, commercial, industrial, and residential properties in Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. The company owns a total of 186 properties, generating rental revenues from various sectors. In 2023, the company recorded rental revenues of P11 million from residential properties, P62 million from industrial properties, and P89 million from commercial properties. Overall, the company’s total revenues increased by 9% to P153 million, while profit before tax increased by 22% to P136 million, and operating profit increased by 11% to P139 million.
One notable achievement for FPC is the low vacancy rate across its properties, which stands at only 6%. This is particularly impressive considering the challenging trading environment. The company attributes this success to effective lease management and the leasing of previously vacant properties in South Africa. FPC’s management expressed satisfaction with the results, highlighting the resilience of the company in the face of ongoing macroeconomic challenges.
The increase in profit before tax can be attributed to both an increase in income and effective control of operating expenses. FPC managed to achieve these results with fewer employees, demonstrating the company’s efficiency. The headline earnings per linked unit also saw an improvement, reaching 26.92 thebe, higher than the previous year.
Looking ahead, FPC remains confident in its competitiveness and growth prospects. The company possesses a substantial land bank, which it plans to develop strategically as opportunities arise. FPC aims for managed growth, focusing on consumer-driven developments and ensuring the presence of supportive tenants. By maintaining this approach, the company believes it can sustainably grow its property portfolio and remain competitive in the market.
In terms of the macroeconomic environment, FPC noted that inflation rates are decreasing towards the 3% to 6% range approved by the Bank of Botswana. This is positive news for the company, as it hopes for further decreases in interest rates. However, the fluctuating fuel prices, influenced by global events such as the war in Ukraine and oil output reductions by Russia and other Middle Eastern countries, continue to impact businesses, including some of FPC’s tenants.
FPC’s property portfolio includes notable assets such as a shopping mall in Francistown with Choppies Hyper as the anchor tenant, Borogo Mall located on the A33 main road near the Kazungula ferry crossing, and various industrial and commercial properties in Gaborone leased to Choppies, Senn Foods, and Clover Botswana. The company also owns a shopping mall in Mafikeng and Rustenburg in South Africa.
The majority of FPC’s properties, 85%, are located in Botswana, followed by 12% in South Africa and 3% in Zambia. With its strong financial performance, competitive position, and strategic land bank, FPC is well-positioned for continued growth and success in the property market.
The Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) has taken a significant step towards diversifying its energy mix by signing a power purchase agreement with Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village. This agreement marks a major milestone for the energy sector in Botswana as the country transitions from a coal-fired power generation system to a new energy mix comprising coal, gas, solar, and wind.
The CEO of BPC, David Kgoboko, explained that the Power Purchase Agreement is for a 6MW coal bed methane proof of concept project to be developed around Mmashoro village. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy in the energy mix. The use of coal bed methane for power generation is an exciting development as it provides a hybrid solution with non-dispatchable sources of generation like solar PV. Without flexible base-load generation, the deployment of non-dispatchable solar PV generation would be limited.
Kgoboko emphasized that BPC is committed to enabling the development of a gas supply industry in Botswana. Sekaname Energy, along with other players in the coal bed methane exploration business, is a key and strategic partner for BPC. The successful development of a gas supply industry will enable the realization of a secure and sustainable energy mix for the country.
The Minister of Minerals & Energy, Lefoko Moagi, expressed his support for the initiative by the private sector to develop a gas industry in Botswana. The country has abundant coal reserves, and the government fully supports the commercial extraction of coal bed methane gas for power generation. The government guarantees that BPC will purchase the generated electricity at reasonable tariffs, providing cash flow to the developers and enabling them to raise equity and debt funding for gas extraction development.
Moagi highlighted the benefits of developing a gas supply industry, including diversified primary energy sources, economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. He commended Sekaname Energy for undertaking a pilot project to prove the commercial viability of extracting coal bed methane for power generation. If successful, this initiative would unlock the potential of a gas production industry in Botswana.
Sekaname Energy CEO, Peter Mmusi, emphasized the multiple uses of natural gas and its potential to uplift Botswana’s economy. In addition to power generation, natural gas can be used for gas-to-liquids, compressed natural gas, and fertilizer production. Mmusi revealed that Sekaname has already invested $57 million in exploration and infrastructure throughout its resource area. The company plans to spend another $10-15 million for the initial 6MW project and aims to invest over $500 million in the future for a 90MW power plant. Sekaname’s goal is to assist BPC in becoming a net exporter of power within the region and to contribute to Botswana’s transition to cleaner energy production.
In conclusion, the power purchase agreement between BPC and Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village is a significant step towards diversifying Botswana’s energy mix. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy. The government’s support for the development of a gas supply industry and the commercial extraction of coal bed methane will bring numerous benefits to the country, including economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. With the potential to become a net exporter of power and a cleaner energy producer, Botswana is poised to make significant strides in its energy sector.
It is not clear as to when, but before taking a festive break in few weeks’ time UDC leaders would have convened to address the ongoing deadlock surrounding constituency allocation in the negotiations for the 2024 elections. The leaders, Duma Boko of the UDC, Mephato Reggie Reatile of the BPF, and Ndaba Gaolathe of the AP, are expected to meet and discuss critical matters and engage in dialogue regarding the contested constituencies.
The negotiations hit a stalemate when it came to allocating constituencies, prompting the need for the leaders to intervene. Representatives from the UDC, AP, and BPF were tasked with negotiating the allocation, with Dr. Patrick Molotsi and Dr. Philip Bulawa representing the UDC, and Dr. Phenyo Butale and Wynter Mmolotsi representing the AP.
The leaders’ meeting is crucial in resolving the contentious issue of constituency allocation, which has caused tension among UDC members and potential candidates for the 2024 elections. After reaching an agreement, the leaders will engage with the members of each constituency to gauge their opinions and ensure that the decisions made are favored by the rank and file. This approach aims to avoid unnecessary costs and conflicts during the general elections.
One of the main points of contention is the allocation of Molepolole South, which the BNF is adamant about obtaining. In the 2019 elections, the UDC was the runner-up in Molepolole South, securing the second position in seven out of eight wards. Other contested constituencies include Metsimotlhabe, Kgatleng East and West, Mmadinare, Francistown East, Shashe West, Boteti East, and Lerala Maunatlala.
The criteria used for constituency allocation have also become a point of dispute among the UDC member parties. The issue of incumbency is particularly contentious, as the criterion for constituency allocation suggests that current holders of UDC’s council and parliamentary seats should be given priority for re-election without undergoing primary elections. Disadvantaged parties argue that this approach limits democratic competition and hinders the emergence of potentially more capable candidates.
Another disputed criterion is the allocation based on the strength and popularity of a party in specific areas. Parties argue that this is a subjective criterion that leads to disputes and favoritism, as clear metrics for strength and visibility cannot be defined. The BNF, in particular, questions the demands of the new entrants, the BPF and AP, as they lack a traceable track record to support their high expectations.
The unity and cohesion of the UDC are at stake, with the BPF and AP expressing dissatisfaction and considering withdrawing from the negotiations. Therefore, it is crucial for the leaders to expedite their meeting and find a resolution to these disputes.
In the midst of these negotiations, the BNF has already secured 15 constituencies within the UDC coalition. While the negotiations are still ongoing, BNF Chairman Dr. Molotsi revealed that they have traditionally held these constituencies and are expecting to add more to their tally. The constituencies include Gantsi North, Gantsi South, Kgalagadi North, Kgalagadi South, Good Hope – Mmathethe, Kanye North, Kanye South, Lobatse, Molepolole North, Gaborone South, Gaborone North, Gaborone Bonnignton North, Takatokwane, Letlhakeng, and Tlokweng.
The resolution of the contested constituencies will test the ability of the UDC to present a united front in the 2024 National Elections will depend on the decisions made by the three leaders. It is essential for them to demonstrate maturity and astuteness in resolving the constituency allocation deadlock and ensuring the cohesion of the UDC.