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Can Phikwe be redeemed?

David Magang           

View From Mana House   

Finally, the gavel has sounded.  Barring a miracle of the scale of Moses parting the Red Sea to enable the nation of Israel hassle-free passage  en route to the Promised Land,  the little twin town of Selibe Phikwe, or simply Phikwe in short,  is headed the way of a ghost town. Following months of tactless equivocation, the powers-that-be have at long last hit the nail squarely on the head. They simply no longer have the wherewithal, let alone the stomach, to keep pumping unrequited billions into a starkly moribund mine, never mind that in truth, it still has at least seven years of life left in it according to some “leaked document”.  It is not their fault, they seem to suggest: it is nature’s law of diminishing returns and the matter-of-fact fate of the wasting asset that minerals inherently are.

Well, we all knew that some day or other, BCL would give up the ghost, excuse the pun: the writing has always been on the wall though Government did nothing of substance to forestall the apocalypse. What caught us unawares is the manner in which the mine has bitten the dust – by way of assisted suicide, or euthanasia in medical jargon. Government gives us to understand that it has switched off the mine’s artificial breathing apparatus not so much to prematurely terminate its life as to extricate it from its own misery, which misery was draining the coffers of Government, or, shall we say, the Government blood bank. Whilst indications are that a circulatory specialist would have staunched the bleeding at least for one more year, when the patient was expected to be on the mend,  Government simply no longer had the patience for medical magic of any shape or form, particularly when some  fuming dude from down south was  breathing down on it with bad intentions for a breach of contract of some sort.

As “Doctor” Nigel Dixon-Warren of KPMG hankers down to carry out a definitive post-mortem – who knows, he could find a way of reversing the rigor mortis and breath back life into the mine like Jesus called forth a clinically dead Lazarus out of the tomb – the media, the opposition, and a whole host of arm-chair critics are having a field day. Recriminations are   flying thick and fast, with the naming and shaming game already at fever pitch. 

Taking much of the flak are a former mines minister who let go of a very able GM and only listlessly kept tabs on the mine’s modus vivendi; a feckless former board chairman who  brought on board a profligate new GM before he jumped ship in the very moment the vessel hit an ice berg; an intransigent expatriate CEO of a newly-formed mining parastatal who was at perpetual loggerheads with the redeployed mines minister; and Government itself for being just plain sloppy in the greater scheme of things, such as, for example, entrusting a critically important institution such as SPEDU to    

recycled veteran  civil servants who are past their sell-by date and have no experience in running a business undertaking.

Who deserves to be particularly rapped hard on the knuckles?


Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopaedia, defines a ghost town as “an abandoned village, town, or city, usually one that contains substantial visible remains”. A town regresses into a ghost town mainly when “the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, or nuclear disasters”. 

If Selibe Phikwe is to wilt into ghost town status, it will be because of government inaction – its neglecting to hasten to diversify the economy of the town when desperate necessity demanded so.   As far as I’m concerned therefore, responsibility for the now precarious situation of Phikwe lies squarely on the government enclave in Gaborone. Grand opportunities to reinvigorate the town were lost in BUIST which should have been built there, SPEDU which should have been speeded up, ESP which should have been devoted to the town first and foremost,  to mention only a few.

Can Phikwe be redeemed in the wake of the BCL implosion?  It is possible of course but it could be up to scores of years before such a revival and the vitality of yesteryears is attained.  Two examples come to mind in this regard. Walhalla in Australia became a spectral town when gold mining came to an end in 1914 but its accessibility and proximity to tourist attractions, coupled with political will and initiative on the part of the Australian authorities, has occasioned a turnaround in its economic fortunes. Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, first flourished, then waned in the Middle Ages.  In the 19th century, it again rebounded. From a population of only 5000 in 1806, it is now a bustling city of 4 million.

The fact of the matter though is that not every ghost town fully revitalises in the fullness of time along the lines of Alexandria and Walhala. Dallol in Ethiopia was a potash, sylvite and salt mining community. Since it was abandoned in the late 1960s, it has never stirred at all. Kolmanskop in Namibia,  founded in 1908,  in the middle of the Namibian diamond fever, was slowly deserted right after the First World War, when diamond sales plummeted. It remains in total dereliction. Bodie in California was a thriving gold mine with more than 2000 imposing buildings. When gold deposits petered out in the late 1880s, the exodus was almost instantaneous. In 1905, it had 1965 inhabitants. Today, it has less than 40, which does not even qualify as a skeleton population.  All these ghost towns stand as eerie monuments to glittering bygone eras. 

All told, we should not completely despond over Phikwe. There is life after life only it could take several life times to dawn. Phikwe still has potentially bankable minerals in its crust that await exploitation and the EU has the multi-million euro Sismin Funding Programme we could tap into to help revitalise BCL if the Dixon-Warren autopsy pronounces for a new lease of life. There is also the amelioration of  the commodity price crunch projected to set in post 2017 to count upon.

For Phikwe to somehow reinvent itself in the nick of time, say as a marquee tourist attraction, there has to be something for people to travel all the way from the West or the Orient to see. Phikwe does have a bit of game all right, but not the seamless, paradisiacal   variety that teems in  the Moremi Game Reserve or Chobe National Park. Nor does it have the equivalent of the Okavango Delta or the Makgadikgadi Pans. At best, it could be no more than a B-List tourist destination. 

Of course BCL would bequeath to the town a 2 kilometre deep underground mine  but tourists who take a ten-hour flight to go and savour the blood-curdling depths of an ancient sub-surface mine can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Cullinan Mines in neighbouring South Africa has such a facility and indeed receives only a handful of tourists per year, almost all of whom from within the country. 

Maybe Phikwe will prove to have the nine lives of a cat and like a sphinx rise from the ashes to which Government now has combusted it. Jesus was greater after Calvary than before Calvary. But exactly what abracadabra must be uttered to turn Phikwe into an Aladdin’s cave and in reasonable time for that matter?


When I was Assistant Minister of Finance & Development Planning in 1990, I broached the idea of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to Government. My boss at the time, Festus Mogae, and other Cabinet ministers pooh-pooed the notion, the core of their argument being  that the incentives obtaining under FAP (Financial Assistance Policy) very much mirrored what a SEZ setup would require.  Although I wasn’t convinced, I meekly yielded.

In 2005, the Business Economic and Advisory Council pitched the same idea to Government. This time around, Government embraced the proposition. But as is typical of the glacially slow pace at which things move in our country, the SEZ Policy was finalised only 5 years later, in 2010. Over ten years since SEZs were mooted, we still haven’t moved an inch in kick-starting the process. Had we moved at the speed of a gazelle as our state of desperation demanded in light of Phikwe’s plight and set about establishing SEZs right in 2005, the national heartache we now harbour over Phikwe would not be this acute.  SEZs have the potential to dramatically resurrect Phikwe and make it the catalyst overall of the economic resurgence of the country in the manner Shenzhen sparked a countrywide economic renaissance in China.

In one of my recent articles (Wanted: Benevolent Dictator, September 17th), I made mention of the great Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the fairy-tale economic prosperity China enjoys today. It was Deng who seized on the idea of SEZs and ran with it at full throttle. In July 1979, Deng designated Shenzhen as an SEZ, along with three other locations. At the time, China was teetering on the brink of economic collapse, as Botswana soon could if budget deficits persist and perpetuate. Shenzhen was an impoverished and therefore unimportant rural backwater tucked away along China’s south coast. It was not a ghost town because it never soared and then came a cropper economically: it was a soporific town, with a population of only 30,000 whose livelihood almost wholly derived from fishing. The daily income for a peasant was a pathetic 1 Yuan, when just across the border in Hong Kong (then under British rule) a peasant earned 60 times as much.  

Today, Shenzhen is a dynamic metropolis with a population of 15 million people thanks to the advent of SEZs. In 2013, Shenzhen’s GDP was $237 billion (larger than that of Ireland), about 2000 times what it was in 1979. At $22,000, its GDP per capita in that same year rivalled that of some of the OECD’s full-fledged countries. In the 1990s, Shenzhen was characterised as constructing “one high-rise a day and one boulevard every three days”. In 2014, a US real estate developer paid a record $2.21 billion for a site in Shenzhen, underscoring how highly prized the city had now become on the international property market. 


Maybe you haven’t heard this, but Egypt is constructing a new capital city to replace an over-crowded, jam-packed Cairo and where stratospheric property prices and rentals have occasioned a tellingly high cost of living.  The city will be built from scratch and right in the centre of the Sahara Desert. Guess who’s funding it? It is China, to the tune of $45 billion.

Now,  whereas practically every country on the continent of Africa is paying court, with cap in hand,  to the mighty Red Dragon, our relations with China remain fraught such is our intoxication with diamond rents, which in any case are dwindling faster than the October sun melts wax.  If the Government enclave is not well apprised as to how powerful and globally indispensable China is presently and potentially, I can help with a few titbits.

Just this week, China supplanted the US as the world’s largest economy, a status the US held for 142 years after it overtook Britain in the same capacity in 1872. The US, the so-called locomotive engine of the global economy, has in fact effectively been an economic colony of China for some time now. As of June 2016, the US owed China $1.24 trillion. The US pays China $100 million a day in interest only on this gigantic debt. As part of the consideration arising from the debt – which the US will in all probability never be able to settle – the Chinese government is pushing for the creation of “development zones” on US territory where Chinese-owned business will be established with an overwhelmingly Chinese workforce. When that happens, a sizeable portion of the $1.24 trillion debt will be converted from debt to equity. In the event, “China would own US business, US infrastructure, and US high-value land, all with a US government guarantee against loss” as one America economist chillingly put it.    

Meanwhile, China is busy buying up swathes of land on the continent of Africa to possibly convert to SEZs thanks to a staggering $3.2 trillion in reserves. In 2014, it offered to finance 30 percent of India’s targeted infrastructural investments as per the latter’s 12th National Development Plan spanning the years 2012 to 2017. China, folks, is on an investment binge unprecedented in history and this is the country our government keep thumbing its nose at!


At the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in Beijing, Botswana was conspicuous by its absence. We were not invited reportedly because of the contemptuous manner with which we treat Chinese interests in our country. The aftermath of the Beijing summit was the initiation of 7 Chinese-run SEZ projects in Africa – one each in Mauritius, Egypt, and Ethiopia and two each in Nigeria and Zambia.  According to the Zambian China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, a total of 27 copper and copper-related enterprises were already operating in Zambia’s Chambishi Multi-Facility Economic Zone by 2014 and approximately 8000 jobs had already arisen.

Phikwe is one of the two locations slated to pilot the Botswana SEZ thrust. If we are to make a success of this, we will need Chinese FDI – just as China needed Japanese and Hong Kong FDI to kick-start the Shenzhen SEZ – and Chinese technical knowhow. Dubai offers a most invaluable cue in this regard. Its people used to spend millions of dollars per year to stock up with merchandise from China. That was a lot of money leaving the country. To stem this haemorrhage, Dubai set up SEZs with mouth-wateringly attractive incentives and invited Chinese companies to establish their businesses in there. Today, there are more than 170 Chinese companies operating in the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), the flagship SEZ of Dubai and the foremost in the entire Middle East. Since 2007, over 160,000 jobs, about twice to thrice the population of Phikwe, have been generated in the Chinese-dominated JAFZA.

 Needless to say, Botswana will need not only the instrumentality of Chinese investment in the Phikwe SEZ if the ailing town has to spectacularly spring back to life but the goodwill of Beijing as well. So let us desist from treating the Chinese as “infestors” and render them the deference virtually every other nation on Earth is according them.


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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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