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COVID-19: Small businesses suffering 


The month of August is known for strong winds and sunny, long days. In front of Lentsweletau Sub-land board offices lies small, worn-out shacks of three women trying to make a living out of something.

For some, these old cottages can be deemed hogwash, but these women see them as their ‘saving grace.’ They have been dented by the strong winds, in any case.

These women sell fat cakes for students who attend Lentsweletau Junior Secondary School, which is adjacent to land board offices. During lunch hour, students are not allowed to go outside the school premises. Therefore land board employees will visit these shacks to buy something to eat.

COVID-19 came over, and there have been sequential closing of schools. This was done to prevent the virus from spreading among students. On this particular sunny day, upon arrival at the small shacks, the women looked so hopeless. There are no students; therefore, that means there is less business. The fat-cakes are still wedged inside the Mango Achar bucket.

Lunch hour is approaching, but land board employees are not coming for lunch. Twenty minutes later, one man hopped out of his car and asked what was in there to eat. He was told that there was no meat, he then continued with his journey. This man came to ask for services from the land board offices; he is not a regular customer. An hour later, two officers from the land board came and sat in one of the three shacks. They ate their lunch.

Sebonetse Modise is one of the three old women trading in this place. Besides selling food, she vends sweets, oranges and snacks for students. Now that COVID-19 is here, none of what she sells goes. When times are hard, she returns home with all her food. She has no choice but to feed her children.

Ke itshetsa ka gone go apaya abo ke rekisetsa bana ba sekolo di sweets. Jannong COVID-19 e re amile. Dikolo sale di tswalwa. Kana re tsaya ma P1 mo banning, yaanong fa dikolo di tswetswe jaana, ga gona sepe se re se bonang. Re kotama jaaka o re bona re kotame jaana. Le tsone dijonyana tse re kgona go apaya, batho ba le boutsana go sena theko mo e leng gore o kgona go bowa ka tsone bana ba go ja ko lapeng, kamoso ga gona sepe se o se rekang.”

In an interpreted description, Modise said, “I survive by selling food and sweets for children who attend school here. Now that the COVID-19 is here, schools have been closed. We get P1.00 to buy sweets, but since schools are closed, absolutely nothing is coming in. We spend time sitting here, as you can see.

Even with the food that we are selling, people come in small numbers to buy. At times we are forced to go back with the food that we eventually give to children; tomorrow, you have nothing to use to buy stock.”

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has exacerbated existing growth challenges, leading to an estimated real gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 7.9% in 2020 (the largest on record). The economy should expand robustly in 2021, supported by sturdier domestic demand; this is according to experts.

Moreover, pent-up foreign demand and higher commodity prices bolster exports, particularly key diamond sales. Risks are tilted to the downside, however, amid continued uncertainty over the course of the pandemic and the speed of the vaccine drive.

FocusEconomics analysts project the economy to grow 7.2% in 2021, up 0.3 percentage points from last month’s forecast and 6.4% in 2022.

Since COVID-19 hit the country, the government introduced food relief packages and funds for those severely affected by the pandemic. In Lentsweletau, this is news to Modise. “Ga gona, ga gona. Ga re ise re bone le faele sepe. Re tlhola re kokomaletse gore gongwe mongwe o ka tla ka pula a reka sweets gongwe tse pedi. Go thata tota, re a sotlega tota.”

“We haven’t received anything from the government. Absolutely nothing. We spend all days waiting for a customer and hoping they purchase a sweet or at least two of them. It’s rough; we are suffering.”

Similarly, feeling the COVID-19 high temperature like Modise, Magdeline Barobetse survives on zero revenue. Having been operating as an entrepreneur in this place in 2016, this is the first time since COVID-19 that she goes home with nothing.

Ke sale ke dira madi fa ka 2016. Mme e rile go simologa ga COVID-19, ke wetse ko tlase. Fa ele gompieno gone, go worse. Ke ne ke duba borotho ka sekotlele se setona, e re nako e, abo bo fedile. Ke ne ke duba 12.5kg, gompieno ke duba 2.5kg. Ke ne ke apaya nama ya P250.00, le koko   

“I started operating here in 2016, and I was making much money. Ever since COVID-19 came over, I have fallen flat. Today is extremely worse. I used to make bread with a larger bowl, and the bread will sell out. Nowadays, I only produce a quarter of that, and I have also cut down on the size of meat I used to cook.”

She denies ever having help from the government, particularly the Member of Parliament. The Lentsweletau-Mmopane MP is Naniki Makwinja. “Nna mopalamente ga re mo itse. Re bone, motho go mo tlhopha. Maabane nkile ka bona manobonobo a dikoloi a feta yaana, gotwe ke tsa ga mopalamente di ya Dikgatlhong. Le ekare a feta fa, ga a kake a fapoga. O ka tlala leswe.”

Barobetse said, “We don’t know our Member of Parliament. We only voted her into power, but we don’t know her. Yesterday I saw luxurious vehicles passing by going towards Dikgatlhong village. I was told that they were the MP’s convey. Even if she can pass by many times, she wouldn’t stop by t east to see us who voted her to be where she is now. She will get dirty.”

She further indicated that the food relief package was just predisposed and evenly distributed. For some prominent families, they were given food in small quantities. There was no consideration of what people eat or do not eat.


When reached for comment, area MP Makwinja said, “There are social workers and councillors in my constituency. These people have my mobile number and every time they need something, they call. I am trying, by all means, to be there for my constituents, but this is made difficult by the COVID-19. Every weekend I am out checking on my voters. But of course, people never complain, but I do try my best.”

When asked to comment on issues raised by small business owners, Makwinja acknowledged that many problems are arising from the COVID-19 crisis. She also indicated that these street vendors are not the only ones affected by the contagion.

“The fact of the matter is that if these people cannot find help at council offices, there is a ward councillor. If the councillor cannot help them, they can reach me so that I link them with relevant officers. They should get my number, and we map how we can help them.”


The government introduced the Informal Sector, Stimulus Fund, through the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry. The Fund was relief support for individuals who are fully dependent on their informal businesses for livelihoods.

All formally employed individuals in Government, Parastatals and Private sector operating informal businesses part-time were not eligible to apply or receive the Informal Sector, Stimulus Fund.

Administered by the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), all registered and eligible Informal sector business owners were credited with P1 000.00 once-off grant. However, these small business owners in Lentsweletau denied ever being assisted under this Fund.

“We do not have a source of information about these particular initiatives. It’s a surprise that government communicates these initiatives on social media. We do not even know what that is. We don’t have phones to receive such information. All we know is that our representatives in Parliament quarrel all day without agreeing on any tangible solutions.”


Unlike workers in the formal economy, who benefit from legal and social protections, informal workers earn their living without a safety net. They are mostly women and primarily self-employed, engaged in occupations such as street vending, domestic work, transportation, and garbage collection.

Some also work as off-the-books day labourers in factories, farms, and other formal businesses that don’t extend full rights or protections to all employees. Measures taken by many countries to fight the pandemic—including lockdowns implemented without significant assistance for those whose jobs are affected—have threatened the livelihoods of informal workers and pushed them further into poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Millions of informal jobs have been lost in just a few weeks, and millions more have been put at risk.

According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Botswana’s seven weeks of national lockdown and closure of facilities had immediate adverse effects on the domestic economy as consumer demand declined and the supply chain was disrupted.

Business revenue-generating activity within the informal sector was paused due to the inability of businesses to trade during this period. Affected sectors were widespread across Botswana’s economy and included public transport, hawkers and street vendors, hair salons, liquor stores and restaurants.

In particular, the informal sector bore the major brunt of the national lockdown as staying at home and social distancing is antithetical to the nature of its economic activity and the means of livelihood for participants in this sector. Their plight is expected to worsen.

In its June 2020 forecast, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) states that the “pandemic’s still rapid spread indicates that social distancing measures will need to remain in place for a longer time, depressing economic activity in the second half of 2020.


(Data from 2015 Multi-Topic Household Survey Report 2015/16, and 2015 Project to Conduct an Informal Sector Study for Botswana)

  • Total estimated number of persons employed in the informal sector: 191,176
  • Total estimated number of informal sector businesses: 116,571 (Avg. 1.64 persons per company)
  • Total Estimated Annual Economic Output from the Informal Sector in Botswana: P7, 875,730,039
  • Portion of Botswana Gross Domestic Product (Ministry Interviews): 5.3%
  • The percentage change in the number of informal sector businesses 2007 – 2015: +233%


Mining production rebounds to pre-Covid-19 levels

12th January 2022
Mining production

The local mining industry is on the rise again, emerging out of the COVID-19 pandemic induced headwinds. 

In 2020 mining operations had to curtail their production in response to plummeting demand across commodity markets. Companies also had to reduce their workforce to comply with COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing in an effort to curb the spread of the contagious plague.

This resulted in low production levels across the sector, however operations are significantly jumping back to pre-COVID-19 output levels albeit another variant that has now surfaced, posing uncertainty for the year 2022.

Just before close of business for the year 2021, Statistics Botswana released the Index of Mining Production, a quarterly measure of output across Botswana’s mining operations and extractive industries.

The Index of Mining Production stood at 95.5 during the third quarter of 2021, showing a year-on-year growth of 31.8 percent, from 72.5 registered during the third quarter of 2020.

The quarter-on-quarter analysis shows an increase of 11.6 percent from the index of 85.6 during the second quarter of 2021 to 95.5 observed during the period under review.

The main contributor to the increase in mining production came from the Diamonds, which contributed 31.2 percentage points.

Gold was the only negative contributor to mining production, at negative 0.4 of a percentage point.

Diamond production increased by 32.2 percent (1.584 million carats) from 4.916 million carats during the third quarter of 2020 to 6.5 million carats during the same quarter of the current year.

The increase was a result of planned strategy to align production with stronger trading conditions.

Similarly, the quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that production registered an increase of 11.6 percent (673 000 carats) during the third quarter of 2021 compared to the 5.8 million thousand carats during the second quarter of 2021.

Botswana’s flagship diamond producer is De Beers – Government jointly owned Debswana, by far the country’ s mining jewel and global leader in rough diamond production.

The other diamond producing operation is Lucara’s 100 % owned Karowe Mine, a relatively small operation but known around the globe for its spectacular diamond recoveries, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

Gold production decreased by 26.9 percent (65 kilograms) during the third quarter of 2021, from 241kilograms during the same quarter of the previous year to 176 kilograms currently

The quarter-on- quarter analysis reflects a decrease of 5.5 percent (10 kilograms) to 176 kilograms during the third quarter of 2021, compared to 186 kilograms in the preceding quarter.

Botswana’s sole gold producer is Galane Gold’s Mupane Mine in North East Botswana, enclaved around the historic gold fields of Francistown.

The decrease in production according to Statistics Botswana was a result of the deteriorating lifespan of the mine. Mupane Gold Mine is currently on a rough run with imminent workers strike over unsatisfactory payments. The impending protests have been heavily endorsed by Botswana Mine Workers Union.

In Sua Pan, the sodium crystals have risen to glory, making Sowa Town great again, Soda Ash production rose by 81.7 percent (29, 312 tonnes) from 35, 883 tonnes during the third quarter of 2020 to 65, 195 tonnes in the same quarter of the current year.

The quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that production went up by 12.5 percent (7, 233 tonnes) during the period under review, from 57, 962 tonnes during the previous quarter.

The increase in production is attributable to the effectiveness of the plant following refurbishment which occurred in the third quarter of 2020.

Salt production went up by 86.1 percent (78, 566 tonnes) to 169, 826 tonnes during the third quarter of 2021, from 91, 261 tonnes during the same quarter of the previous year.

Similarly, the quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that salt production registered an increase of 66.9 percent (68, 050 tonnes) compared to 101, 776 tonnes during the second quarter of 2021.

Botswana’s industrial scale Salt an Soda  Soda Ash producer is Botswana Ash (Botash), a 50-50 partnership between Botswana Government  and South African Chlor Alkali Holdings (CAH) Group.

Coal production increased by 1.0 percent (5, 434 tonnes), from 543, 793 tonnes during the third quarter of 2020, to 549, 227 tonnes in the current quarter.

The slight increase came as a result of the efforts made to meet both domestic and international high demand, particularly that new markets have been identified.

The quarter-on-quarter comparison shows that coal production went up by 13.1 percent (63, 585 tonnes) compared to 485, 642 tonnes during the second quarter of the current year.

Inthe coal space the only operating mines are the privately developed Minergy’s Masama located near Media Village and the wholly Gorvenment owned Morupule Coal Mine.

Copper-Nickel-Cobalt Matte recorded zero production during the period under review. The affected mines are still under provisional liquidation.

Copper in Concentrates and Silver though there has been exportation of Copper by the newly launched Khoemacau Copper Mine since July 2021, the mine has been engaged in preparatory mining activities in readiness for full operations intended for the year 2022.

The preparatory mining operations yielded rewarding outcomes as copper residues realized have been exported since July 2021.

The period between preparatory and full operations is intended to allow the production to stabilize before reporting production output figures.

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Exports plummeted in October 2021

12th January 2022

Botswana exports took a knock in October 2021 registering only P4,960.7 million, a 22.1 percent decline from the revised September 2021 value of P6,365.1 million, latest International Merchandise Trade Statistics  have revealed. 

According to this monthly data, released by Statistics Botswana late December 2021 the decline is attributed largely to the reduction in the exportation of Diamonds by 22.6 percent (P1, 264.8 million) from the revised September 2021 value of P5, 608.4 million to P4, 343.6 million.

Though it registered a decline in export figures , the Diamonds group still remained Botswana ‘s biggest exported commodity accounted for 87.6 percent (P4, 343.6 million) of total exports, followed by Copper and Machinery & Electrical Equipment with 3.1 percent (P152.2 million) and 2.6 percent (P131.3 million) respectively.

During the month Asia was the main destination for Botswana exports, having received 65.5 percent (P3, 249.0 million) of total exports. These exports were mainly destined to the UAE and India, having received 28.1 percent (P1, 395.1 million) and 20.4 percent (P1, 011.8 million) of total exports, respectively. Only Diamonds and Copper were exported to the regional block during the October.

Exports destined to the EU amounted to P1, 066.6 million, accounting for 21.5 percent of total exports during the month under review. Belgium received almost all of the exports destined to the regional union, acquiring 21.4 percent (P1, 062.0 million) of total exports during the reporting period. The Diamonds group was the main commodity group exported to the EU.

The SACU region received exports valued at P423.6 million, representing 8.5 percent of total exports. Machinery & Electrical Equipment and Live Cattle accounted for 28.0 percent (P118.6 million) and 14.1 percent (P59.7 million) of total exports to the customs union.

South Africa received 7.8 percent (P386.7 million) of total exports during the month under review more goods entered Botswana in October than the previous month September.

On the other side the value of imports for the month of October clocked P8, 801.5 million, mirroring an increase of 30.5 percent (P2, 056.1 million) over the September 2021 revised figure of P6, 745.4 million.

The increase was mainly attributed to a more than 100 percent (P1, 755.9 million) rise in the importation of Diamonds from the revised September 2021 figure of P1, 616.2 million to P3, 372.0 during the current period.

Diamonds contributed 38.3 percent (P3, 372.0 million) to total imports. Fuel; Food, Beverages & Tobacco and Machinery & Electrical Equipment followed with contributions of 12.3 percent (P1, 086.6 million), 11.7 percent (P1,034.1 million and 10.0 percent (P882.7 million) respectively. Chemicals & Rubber Products contributed 9.7 percent (P856.1 million).

During the month SACU region contributed 61.4 percent (P5, 405.3 million) to Botswana ‘s total imports. The top most imported commodity groups from the customs union were Fuel; Food, Beverages & Tobacco and Diamonds, with contributions of 19.9 percent (P1, 075.1 million), 17.9 percent (P965.0 million) and 16.3 percent (P882.5 million) to imports from the region, respectively.

South Africa contributed 58.8 percent (P5, 176.0 million) to total imports during the reporting period. Fuel, Food, Beverages & Tobacco and Diamonds made contributions of 18.4 percent (P952.3 million), 18.3 percent (P949.4 million), and 16.0 percent (P826.7 million) respectively to imports from South Africa.

Botswana received imports worth P1, 794.2 million from the EU, accounting for 20.4 percent of total imports during October 2021.

The major commodity group imported from the EU was Diamonds, at 89.8 percent (P1, 611.0 million) of all imports from the union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, with a contribution of 18.7 percent (P1, 643.1 million) of total imports during the month of October.

During the month Imports from Asia were valued at P989.5 million, accounting for 11.2 percent of total imports.

The major commodity groups imported from the regional block were Diamonds and Machinery & Electrical Equipment with contributions of 51.9 percent (P513.8 million) and 13.4 percent (P132.6 million) of total imports from Asia.

China and UAE supplied 2.5 percent (P221.3 million) and 2.3 percent (P202.0 million) of total imports during the period, respectively.

Canada supplied imports worth P364.0 million, representing 4.1 percent of Botswana’s total imports during the current period. Imports from Canada were mainly Diamonds, at 99.6 (P362.3 million) of imports from that country.

The rise in imports and decline in exports resulted in a trade deficit of P3, 840.8 million for the month of October.

During the month exports transported by Air were worth P4, 380.1 million, accounting for 88.3 percent of total exports, while those leaving the country by Road were valued at P567.5 million (11.4 percent) while  imports representing 51.7 percent (P4, 554.0 million) were transported into the country by Road.

Transportation of imports by Rail and Air accounted for 24.4 percent (P2, 148.0 million) and 23.8 percent (P2, 098.4 million) respectively.

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Debswana receives African award from Absa for its CEE policy

12th January 2022

Debswana Diamond Company, Botswana’s flagship mining business recently received an award from Absa Bank Group in recognition of its commitment to economic empowerment across the supply chain.

The 4th Annual Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards were held in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 18th November 2021.

The awards celebrate companies that are working towards a better African continent through innovative and impactful supplier development initiatives.

The selection process acknowledges and recognizes corporates who go beyond the scorecard to open access, empower SMEs, foster learning, build a community of best practice and encourage a collaborative spirit within their industries and within the communities in which they operate.

Explaining how Debswana scooped the award Absa Bank Botswana Managing Director Keabetswe Pheko-Moshagane said: “At Absa Bank Botswana, we were excited that for the first time since inception, the 2021 awards were extended to include nominations from Sub-Saharan Africa.”

She explained that the judges special recognition awards for Sub Saharan Africa corporates (excluding South Africa) were made under four categories being: commitment to Economic Empowerment across the Supply Chain, commitment to women inclusion in the supply chain, Commitment to localization of the supply chain and lastly commitment to a pioneering supplier development.

“We immediately thought of the transformative and inspiring work that Debswana is doing locally and what the company continues to achieve through its Citizen Economic Empowerment Program,” she said.

Pheko-Moshagane explained that in recognition of this commitment and outstanding leadership Absa nominated Debswana Diamond Company into the competition under the category: “commitment to economic empowerment across the supply chain”, for which the company was selected as the winner.

The Absa Bank Botswana MD hailed Debswana Citizen Economic Empowerment Program as a true example of how the private sector can contribute to rebuilding the economy through and post the Covid -19 pandemic.

“Your commitment to citizen economic empowerment resonates with us at Absa bank, because we are also committed to and passionate about growing Small and Medium businesses as they represent a vital part of our economy,” she said.

In 2017 Absa, launched the Enterprise and Supply Chain Development (ESD) in the local market as a response to address some challenges faced by the SMEs. The main objective of ESD is to unlock lending to SMEs in corporate value chains.

The introduction of the ESD program has streamlined some of the stringent financing requirements like the provision of financial statements, security, historical performance and weak credit ratings.

The relaxation of the financing requirements has therefore enabled the SMEs to execute on the provision of goods or services for the clients and positively impacted their growth.

ESD uses non-traditional bank lending solutions to provide financing to SME’s. Through this program Absa offers 100% finance to Enterprises in corporate supply chains.

Moshagane said this approach has allowed Absa to unlock the opportunities within the large corporate as they are now assured that their suppliers and contractors will be able to deliver and in addition releasing the corporate cash flows.

“We continue to explore various partnership agreements with various corporates to see how best we can assist the SMEs in response to government’s call for Citizen Economic Empowerment by propelling the support of the SMMEs” she said.

Speaking to Absa & Debswana partnership Mrs Keabetswe Pheko-Moshagane said  the relationship thus far has seen Debswana extend contracts to the value of BWP1.2 billion to SMEs on a  joint program, and Absa has financed close to half a billion to these SMEs, some of which would not have ordinarily qualified for funding under normal banking circumstances.

“To date no SME on the program has had its banking or contract facility terminated, which speaks to the commitment on both our ends in ensuring the success of these SMEs”

Receiving the award, Debswana Acting Managing Director, Lynette Armstrong explained that Debswana started its Citizen Economic Empowerment journey with ABSA Bank in 2017, borne out of the realisation of access to finance challenges by citizen owned enterprises.

This partnership, initiated with a deliverable to implement a pilot project at Orapa Letlhakane Damtshaa Mines within the crushing and drilling spaces.

The two projects delivered the desired results in project KPI’s with impeccable safety records with Absa providing the required access to finance that enabled the citizen suppliers to acquire machinery for the projects.

In 2019, Debswana set up the Citizen Economic Empowerment Programme office a factor that accelerated the signing of a MoU in 2020 on access to finance between Debswana and ABSA and in that, ABSA has pledged to avail access to finance totalling an unprecedented BWP1billion over a period of 3 years.

To date, ABSA has financed 23 projects since 2020 at a total impact of BWP1.5 billion pula in Contract amount with more than BWP700 million advanced to citizen suppliers.

These funds enabled citizen suppliers to pay salaries on time, procure machinery in various areas such as drilling and crushing and participate in the recent LTE installation at Jwaneng Mine.

Armstrong said in the coming year 2022, CEEP will see Debswana focused on implementing plans aimed at supporting local manufacturing and local repairs and maintenance.

“This is where access to funding is key as the two areas of local manufacturing and local repairs and maintenance have a potential to create meaningful and sustainable employment in the medium to long term to achieve Debswana’s target of 20 000 jobs by 2024”

She noted that Debswana has committed to heightened efforts of connecting the Youth and Women in the Debswana Citizen Economic Empowerment conversation, capacitation series and participation in the economic opportunities to further, totally involve all possible demographics and diversify the creativity of building sustainable communities and Make Life Brilliant for all, a total commitment of our Debswana Strategy 2024.

The Debswana Acting MD said the recognition of Debswana for its commitment to economic empowerment across the supply chain by is an encouragement to the Debswana – ABSA partnership and “gives us hope to further intensify our efforts to create opportunities for our fellow citizens and support Government’s efforts towards achieving prosperity for all in terms of Vision 2036”

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