The Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse intends to table a motion during the next session of Parliament calling for a commission of inquiry at the BCL mine.
The legislator met with employees of BCL in Selibe Phikwe this week to get their views on the developments at the copper-nickel mine. The employees raised a number of complaints including delayed salaries, unfair dismissals and withdrawal of benefits without proper communication by the mine management.
The employees urged their MP to table the motion to avoid any possible job losses that may arise if the situation is not arrested at the copper-nickel mine.
“I agreed to move a motion on urgency to call for a commission of inquiry into BCL cash flow problems and other incidental problems, those responsible for the mess must be fired. I promised to ask a lot of questions to get to the bottom of the matter,” said Keorapetse when quizzed by this reporter.
Keorapetse also intends to ask if the DCEC has investigated or is investigating corruption at BCL.
While the MP suspects systematic dismissals aimed at reducing the number of employees and lowering the wage bill, BCL has reported cash flow problems recently and this has affected some of its operations. Employees indicated that their salaries are delayed as a result.
BCL employees complained at the meeting that their loans to SACOS, micro lenders, monthly instalments are deducted from salaries but the money does not reach these financial institutions leaving them with arrears and bad debt record.
Keorapetse said some allowances like that which covers electricity have not been paid and those who are accommodated by the mine haven’t been bought electricity since December.
He said employees complain that the Chief Executive officer, Mr Mahupela does not do site visits and does not address them even in the midst of crisis. They in fact say that he has never addressed them and they only see him in the newspapers.
Employees also reported that the smelter is having problems and has had breakdowns since shutdown. They raised concerns that the rate of what they perceive as unfair dismissals has increased probably because the mine wants to reduce the number of workers by all means possible.
“One of our colleagues was dismissed for forgetting his work ID at work and after appeal he has been suspended for three months,” said one employee.
The BCL staff also complained to their MP about casual labourers or short term contracts at BCL. They said they can work for up to three or five years through several six months contracts stints and they wondered why they are not given long term contracts. They indicated that sometimes they get injured and they are ditched, “actually some have died and were not compensated because of the nature of their contracts.”
They also complained about high numbers of foreigners at BCL in some departments, mainly Zimbabweans.
Employees were concerned that the BCL seeks to diversify portfolio without first addressing its core business. They also decried the decline of safety standards at BCL and point to many injuries and deaths and say most people who died lacked experience to work and supervise risky areas and operations.
On a separate matter they want to know what Dr Akolang Tombale is doing about the petition they long handed him and further want an explanation as to why they never got the six percent inflationary salary adjustment.
“I suspect imprudent management of finances and corruption at grand scale at BCL. This imprudent management of money and corruption may be found in BCL outsourcing of services and engagement of consultants and the BCL purported strategy to diversify its portfolio,” said Keorapetse.
He was very critical of Pula Steel which he said it may be a big fraud; “it’s like opening a pork restaurant in Mecca or Moria; how is it going to survive when big steel plants and corporations which produce high quality and quantity of billets have closed shop due to the collapse of steel prices? Who are they going to sell to? It’s a big scam I suspect and probing questions must be asked.”
On workers complaints about dismissals he echoed their sentiments but cautioned them.
“I highly suspect workers are being unfairly dismissed to reduce their numbers. I have met at least two who have been dismissed and have heard of others. I cautioned workers not to play into the hands of employers because labour laws are inadequate in protecting them. In fact they protect employers more than workers. if they strike BCL may dismiss them en masse and say it is an illegal strike. I also told them to tread carefully because they may be fired over small issues and I encouraged them to be punctual and work hard,” Keorapetse further explained.
The Selibe Phikwe West MP said BCL executives and the Board should own up and take responsibility for this mess and rectify it before it is too late.
“We can’t afford job losses because unemployment is very high here in Phikwe,” he contended.
He concluded by saying Government should intervene through a bailout and a good strategy to save BCL and jobs and families that depend on it.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.