Government looks set to keep operations alive at BCL mine following a tumultuous time at the Selibe Phikwe open shaft with copper nickel prices hitting rock bottom and the smelter operations failing regularly.
Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi pronounced while in Kigali at the African Union summit that Botswana will maintain 1.4 billion pula of annual spending on state-owned BCL Ltd. even as it wants to move away from mining, because the copper and nickel producer employs as many as 5,000 people.
“Only for the reason of wanting to save jobs, and the hope and promise that prices might go up, the government kept on putting in more money,” Mokgweetsi Masisi stressed in an interview Sunday in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. “There will come a point where a decision is made. We have got about 15 more years to go. It’s hot, deep, poor-quality ore — it’s like flagging an old woman and asking her to run in the Olympics.”
The Government position on the BCL could be deducted from a narrative piece in support of BCL by the secretary general of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Botsalo Ntuane some two months back when he vowed that his government will do anything possible to protect or save the 5000 jobs at the BCL mine.
From Vice President Masisi’s interview Government wants to protect the 5000 jobs and is hopeful that prices will improve over time. “There is no way that the BCL mine will be shut down because that will bring down an entire eastern region,” said an analyst who works for the University of Botswana.
Apart from the jobs, BCL has so many other businesses and companies relying on it, some of which employ hundreds of people. This publication has established that companies such as Botsogo medical aid scheme get almost 60 percent of their business from BCL. A number of banks in the eastern region are also reliant on BCL for business. This is in addition to the fact that thousands of BCL employees have accessed financial services with these banks.
Another problem for the troubled mine has been the smelter. It has not been functioning continuously as expected hence bleeding the mine millions of Pula in lost revenue from smelting ore from other mines; as well as the high cost of maintaining it. At some point recently, this publication understands that the smelter was not working for over a month and an expert, who used to work for BCL, had to be called in from Zambia to come and help fix it. The smelter is expected to help the mine pick up its revenue but this has been difficult to achieve because of the fault associated with it. Just as an example, the smelter rakes in P30 million for the BCL monthly for work it does on the ore from Nkomati mine.
Responding to inquiries on the BCL Smelter, Public Relations Manager, Mr James Molosankwe said the smelter experiences normal spate of breakdowns attendant to any plant which are being addressed through normal preventive and maintenance protocols. He said the BCL has a capable maintenance team that does the plant preventative maintenance. However, when the need arise to get experts’ advice it is sought from time to time. Asked if it is true that the smelter needs another shutdown of about a month so as to fully repair it, Molosankwe said: “Not true. However, the Waste Heat Boiler (WHB) requires a statutory inspection every two years, the one having being done in 2015.”
GOVERNMENT POURING IN MILLIONS
In May this year Government had said it plans to sell its stake in the BCL as soon as it returns to profitability. The price of copper, used to make cables, has increased 3 percent in 2016 after plunging for three straight years while nickel has rallied 17 percent following the biggest annual decline since 2008 last year.
Masisi revealed that his Government is pouring in about P110 million, P120 million every month. “It’s unprofitable, unsustainable and expensive,” he was quoted saying.
Government underwrote a $100 million loan from Barclays Bank to the mine in April and BCL plans to raise $250 million in a bond sale and use some of the proceeds to repay the debt and also fund its purchase of a 50 percent stake in South Africa’s Nkomati mine from OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel.
BCL, board chairman, Akolang Tombale who threw in the towel earlier this year, agreed in 2014 to buy 50 percent of Nkomati and 85 percent of Botswana’s Tati Nickel Mining Co. from Norilsk, the world’s biggest producer of the metal, for $337 million. BCL continues to negotiate down how much it has to pay after commodity prices declined and after the transfer of mineral rights in South Africa was delayed. This has yet to be finalised.
Minister of Health Dr Edwin Dikoloti says Africa member states call on World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable resource allocation for 2024-2025. Dr Dikoloti was speaking this week at the WHO Executive Board Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
He said countries agreed that there is need to address the budget and funding imbalances by increasing the programme budget share of countries and regions to 75% for the next year.
“The proposed budget for 2024-2025 marks an important milestone as it is the first in Programme Budget in which country offices will be allocated more than half of the total budget for the biennium. We highly welcome this approach which will enable the organization to deliver on its mandate while fulfilling the expectations for transparency, efficiency and accountability.”
The Botswana Health Minister commended member states on the extension of the General Programme of Work (GPD 13) and the Secretariat work to monitor the progress towards the triple billion targets, and the health-related SDGs.
“We welcome the Director’s general proposed five priorities which have crystalized into the “five Ps” that are aligned with the GPW 13 extension. Impact can only be achieved through close coordination with, and support to national health authorities. As such, the strengthening of country offices is instrumental, with particular focus on strengthening national health systems and on promoting more equitable access to health services.”
According to Dr Dikoloti, the majority of countries with UHC index that is below the global median are in the WHO Africa region. “For that, we call on the WHO to enhance capacity at the regional and national levels in order to accelerate progress. Currently, the regional office needs both technical and financial support in order to effectively address and support country needs.”
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lemogang Kwape says Botswana has not taken any position regarding the killing of a renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down at his house in Mbabane, Eswatini.
In a brief interview with WeekendPost, Dr Kwape said Botswana has not yet taken any position regarding his death. He said the purported incident should be thoroughly probed before Botswana can form an opinion based on the findings of the inquiries.
“Botswana generally condemns any killing of human life by all means,” says Dr. Kwape. He wouldn’t want to be dragged on whether Botswana will support the suspension of Eswatini from SADC.
“We will be guided by SADC organ Troika if they can be an emergency meeting. I am not sure when the meeting will be called by Namibian president,“ he said.
However, the Namibian president Hage Geingob notes with deep concern reports coming out of Eswatini about the killing of Mr. Maseko. In a statement, he called upon the “Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to ensure that the killing of Maseko is swiftly, transparently and comprehensively investigated, and that any or all persons suspected of committing this heinous crime are brought to justice.”
Maseko was chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum which was established as a coalition of non-State actors to advocate for a process of national political dialogue aimed at resolving the security and political challenges confronting the Kingdom.
“SADC expresses its deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Maseko, his friends, colleagues, and to the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini for the loss of Mr. Maseko. In this context, SADC further calls upon the people of the Kingdom of Eswatini to remain calm, exercise due care and consideration whilst the appropriate structures conduct the investigations and bring the matter to completion,” the statement says.
Geingob reiterated the need for peaceful resolution of the political and security challenges affecting the country.
Meanwhile political activists are calling on SADC to suspend Eswatini from the block including the African Union as well.
State prosecutor, Seeletso Ookeditse revealed before the Broadhurst Magistrate Jobbie Moilatshimo that the third accused involved in the murder of Barulaganye Aston, has interfered with the State witnesses again.
The second and third accused (Lefty Kosie and Outlwile Aston) were previously accused of interference when they were caught in possession of cellphones in prison. They were further accused of planning to kill the deceased’s brother, who is currently the guardian to the children of the deceased.
Ookeditse indicated that Outlwile had earlier went to challenge the magistrate’s decision of denying him bail at the High Court before Judge Michael Motlhabi.
“The third accused approached the High Court and made a bail application, which was dismissed on the same day,” Ookeditse said.
However, even after the High Court verdict on their bail application, the duo (Kosie and Aston) has once again applied for bail this week.
Ookeditse plead with the court to stop the accused from abusing the court process.
“Yesterday, Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) received papers of his bail application filed before the Broadhurst Magistrates Court. However, the papers do not speak to changed circumstances, therefore this back and forth about bail must be put to a stop,” said the State prosecutor.
While giving evidence before court, the Investigations Officer, Detective Inspector Quite Zhalamonto, said his investigations have proved that there is interference continuing regarding the accused trio.
He told the court that on the 12th of January 2023, he received a report from Thato Aston, who is the son of the accused and the deceased. The son had alleged to the Investigation Officer that he received a call from one Phillip Molwantwa.
According to Zhalamonto, Thato revealed that Molwatwa indicated that he was from prison on a visit to the Outlwile Aston and went on to ask where he was staying and where his siblings (Aston’s children) are staying.
“Thato revealed that Phillip went on to ask if he or his siblings saw their father murdering their mother, and he was referring to the crime scene. Thato told me that he, however, refused to answer the questions as he was afraid especially because he was asked about where him and his siblings stay,” said Zhalamonto.
Zhalamonto alluded to the court that he then went to Orange to confirm the communication between Thato and Molwantwa where he found the case.
“I have arrested Philip yesterday and when I interviewed him, he did not deny that he knows Aston and that he has indeed called Thato and asked questions as to where him and his siblings resides even though he failed to give reasons for asking such questions,” Zhalamonto told the court.
He further revealed that Molwantwa indicated that he had received a call from an unknown man who refused to reveal himself.
“Phillip told me that the unknown man said he was sent by the accused (Aston), and that Aston had instructed him to tell me to check if there was still some money in his bank accounts, and he also wanted to know where the kids were residing, the unknown man even asked him to meet at Main Mall” the Investigation Officer told the court.
He further informed the court that he is working tirelessly to identify the “unknown caller” and the route of the cell number.
Furthermore, the fourth accused, Kebaleboge Ntsebe, has revealed to the court through a letter that she was abused and tortured by the Botswana Police Services. She wrote in her letter that she suffered miscarriage as a result of being beaten by the police.
Ntsebe is on bail, while a bail ruling for Aston and Kosie will be delivered on the 6th of next month