The highly anticipated reopening of BCL mine will not happen anytime soon. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security, Mr Mmetla Masire says it is still way too early to imagine or even think about return of operation at the once regional copper and nickel mining giant.
In September of this year, Lefoko Moagi – Minister of Mineral Resources told Parliament that government had identified three (3) potential investors who are interested in bringing the BCL mine back to life. The process of choosing new owners, Moagi said, was expected to be completed by December 2020.
Speaking to Weekendpost on Monday, Permanent Secretary Masire said the BCL Liquidator has reported to the Ministry that they are still evaluating bids/proposals from a number of interested potential investors. “At this stage they have not yet concluded the evaluation therefore we do not know how well they are progressing,” he said.
Masire explained that the process will take some time as it is the nature with companies under liquidation. “The Liquidator reports to the Master of the High Court and they will update us on their finds and decisions when they are ready,” said Masire.
Quizzed on whether or not Government would be interested in buying a stake, or partnering with any of the investors Mmetla Masire said that conversation was not applicable at the moment. “It is premature to talk about Government partnering with any of the bidders when we are not even sure if any of the bidders will be successful,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary reiterated that it would therefore be unrealistic to expect BCL mine to be back in operation any time soon. “It is premature to be talking about reopening all or parts of BCL, the process of arriving at that stage is a very complex one and it takes time,” Masire said.
BCL Group which comprises of Phikwe BCL Mine and Tati Nickel mine in Francistown was put under provisional liquidation in October 2016, a decision which according to Government, stemmed from decline of copper prices on global markets thus rendering BCL an uneconomic business case.
Prior to BCL liquidation Government had already pumped over P1 billion in cash through a loan that was later transformed into equity giving government full ownership following a series of transactions aimed at buying out Russian Norilsk. The closure of BCL mine in Phikwe resulted in over 5000 job losses, majority of which were semi and non-skilled personnel from Selibe Phikwe and surrounding areas.
THE RACE TO TAKE OVER BCL
Information gathered by Weekendpost revealed that while government had announced that three (3) potential investors are bidding for the takeover of BCL mine, the quest has narrowed to a two (2) horse race. Two Former BCL Executives are said to be leading two (2) set of investors in a pursuit to assume the reins of resurrecting BCL.
Montwedi Mphathi, former General Manager of BCL has partnered with a team of Canadian Investors to bid for the Mine. Mphathi, a shrewd miner, is credited for leading BCL to profitability during his time before leaving under a cloud to head Botash, Botswana‘s sole soda ash producer. Sources close to the matter told this publication that Mphati and his partners are likely to emerge as the preferred bidders.
He is said to be banking on his credentials as the first Motswana to head BCL, leading it to profitability, and a combination of his Canadian partners’ financial capacity and knowledge of the market. “Mphathi actually knows BCL better , he has worked there for over 30 as a junior until General Manager , if his Canadian partners have the money and guaranteed market access , they stand a better chance,” said one industry expert who preferred anonymity.
The seasoned mining industry giant who also worked in the highest level of Government told this publication that BCL‘s business case remains viable. “The Phikwe mine would obviously not be back to pre liquidation capacity; at most it’s likely to hire about 1500 people,” he said.
The other set of investors are led by Mark Williams. The former Divisional Manager – Corporate Strategy at BCL Mine is said to have convinced well resourced Qataris investors’ to also enter the race. Mark William is often referred to as the master mind behind BCL Polaris II, an ambitious strategy that was coiled to diversify BCL‘s portfolio and secure the company‘s future beyond its own mineral resource.
Polaris II which entailed multibillion pula purchase of Nkomati Mine in South Africa was later criticized as one of the ill advised moves that sunk BCL into financial dark hole. Efforts to get hold of BCL liquidator who is based in Cape Town, South Africa were not fruitful as had not responded to Weekendpost questionnaire at press time. His Phikwe based staff declined commenting on the matter.
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.