Please allow me to air my views concerning the above subject matter and may be in the process, assist my fellow Batswana on possible ways and means we can apply to save the former mining town of Selebi-Phikwe. First let me admit, as a practising entrepreneur, manager and technocrat, my primary job is to provide solutions to human challenges of various nature. And today, I shall humbly attempt to provide some economically viable solution options to Selebi-Phikwe industrialisation challenges. While looking for outside foreign investors to come set up businesses in Selebi-Phikwe on its own is a very noble idea, it is highly advisable for those responsible, especially government, to consider giving first priority chance to locals and companies already based and operating in Botswana. Some local companies can be lured to move to Selebi-Phikwe by approaching them and offering various incentives. There are many incentive packages that can be floated around to entice businesses to set up or relocate to Selebi-Phikwe. Some of these could be low rentals or rent free contracts for the first 12 months of relocation to Selebi-Phikwe, easy access to former BCL Mine residential houses, cheap electricity and water at half the cost of all other towns and regions, availability of cheap land for residential, commercial, agriculture and industrial purposes. Land should be made available as a priority to such investors without the usual cumbersome processes and lengthy procedures. Such investors must be exposed to the abundance of natural resources of Selebi-Phikwe area like water, river sand, clay soils, and that access to such natural resources shall be availed without any delays or too much unnecessary paper work and bureaucratic bottlenecks. Government can also offer tax incentives, fully covered cost of relocation for such businesses, including full cover for loss of business during the relocation exercise period. Availability of ready to occupy factory warehouses and fully serviced industrial areas with water, electricity, tarred roads, street names and lights are critical. It is a true fact; we have very high concentration of businesses in areas like Gaborone leading to acute shortage of land and the challenges of squatters in Mogoditshane, Tlokweng and other peri-urban centres. As a solution and to reduce congestion, government should carry out comprehensive study that will inform authorities as to which businesses could be approached and politely requested or given proposal to relocate to Selebi-Phikwe. Some businesses can be approached by the nature of their industrial activities like the brick and paving tile manufacturers, roof tile manufacturers, floor tile manufacturers, where the bulk of their raw material is river sand which is abundant in Selebi-Phikwe region, steel fabricators, manufacturers of chemicals & electric cables, second hand car dealers, scrap metals and used oil collectors and processors.
All companies selected and approached should be allowed in turn to reciprocate with details of their expenses and the whole financial implications to the relocation exercise to Selebi-Phikwe. To determine and ascertain the economic viability of my suggestions, government should then consider and compare the total cost of relocating these companies and their incentives against the immediate short term and long term benefits of business expansions, more employment creation and resultant tax revenue, and the final industrialisation of Selebi-Phikwe. Mind that I say government because established businesses and entrepreneurs won’t trust SPEDU which is a statutory body established for enticing businesses to Selebi-Phikwe and whose mandate is very limited. Entrepreneurs would need proposal letters from the Ministry of Industry and Trade on government of Botswana letterhead and official stamp which will give them enough confidence and long term assurances. No one will listen to SPEDU because local business people do not even know them. All they know is their big titles and nothing else. This operation should be under Industrial Affairs Department with no need of big titles. Once they have accomplished their mandate, SPEDU might be dissolved but the Ministry shall always be there to offer support to the relocated industries and to fulfil their long term promises. Indeed there are many local companies willing to set base or to relocate to Selebi-Phikwe but no one has ever bothered to approach them. The simple fact that relocation is expensive makes such companies reluctant to do so unless government chips in with incentives and the necessary financial assistance. Such relocations may at times take months with loss of production and sales and no business can take such risks without any compensation assurances. It makes common sense that if government is serious with saving Selebi-Phikwe then a change of strategy is necessary. The exercise of Selebi-Phikwe industrialisation should not be seen to be targeting foreign investors only. If you have challenges, it is always wiser to look first for a solution in your house before consulting your neighbours and outsiders. And as Batswana, we have the solution to industrialise Selebi-Phikwe right here at home. We surely do not need to waste money sending delegations to far off countries like Israel, Japan, Taiwan, Italy and so forth. This money we so waste could be used to compensate local companies willing to relocate to Selebi-Phikwe, and its more than enough for the job.
It is an obvious case that outsiders may be reluctant to set up and invest in Selebi-Phikwe, asking themselves what the locals are scared of. If you want to win a major combat battle, it is wise to use your own men than mercenaries. We have to trust our own people and companies that are already based locally. Companies relocating to Selebi-Phikwe must be assured of government support at all times and government should put in place a number of short term and long term incentives including various subsidies to entice these companies and win their long term trust and commitment. Government must also guarantee purchase and consumption of the products of these companies and stop forthwith external importation of the same products they manufacture as is the case today. There are a number of benefits to relocation of some companies to such places as Selebi-Phikwe. And some of the immediate advantages and benefits to areas like Gaborone would be availability of land for commercial developments on plots currently used as brick yards and second hand car dealers, less consumption of scarce resources like water and electricity, less traffic congestion, less pollution, rumble and dust leading to clear fresh skies and a healthy environment. The other viable option to Selebi-Phikwe industrialisation challenges could be government using its Industrial Development Policy to designate certain industries and industrial activities confined to Selebi-Phikwe area. This could be a deliberate policy and strategy to industrialise Selebi-Phikwe and to be relaxed once government is satisfied that enough industrialisation and investment has been realised and accomplished and as a matter of fact her objectives have been successfully achieved. Government should also consider moving most of the petroleum products companies to Selebi-Phikwe. In Gaborone for example, we have two huge petroleum storage facilities in the Old Industrial area almost next to each other or within the same vicinity, one on Haile Selassie Road and the other on Nkrumah Road, and no one has ever thought of or contemplated on what could happen should any one of these storage facilities ever accidentally catch fire. Should this unfortunate incidence happen one day, we might have the worst disaster in our entire lives which could be colossal to our nation. Why not relocate these away to safe areas like Selebi-Phikwe and release those plots for more industrial and commercial development land?
Government should also consider moving some of her parastatals to Selebi-Phikwe. There are a number of parastatals and government departments whose work could not be compromised by relocation to Selebi-Phikwe. What could be compromised for example if parastatals and government departments like Botswana Investment and Trade Centre, BIDPA,BOTEC,BOQA,CTO, BUAN, IDM, BOBS, CMS, House of Chiefs, and even BDF HQ or Prisons HQ, moved to Selebi-Phikwe . Kindly pardon me, am just thinking aloud, and these are just examples please, without any specific order of priority. All I want to put across is that with careful planning we can achieve Selebi-Phikwe industrialisation and save the town and its people without bothering ourselves with outsiders. Let them find us already helping ourselves. Generally, investors need government recognition and support, assurances of their future existence and prosperity. Without these, even foreign investors would not bother to dare come invest and do business in our country. Please kindly bear in mind that I have no intention at all to discredit and undermine the officers and SPEDU as an organisation. In fact I do hold all SPEDU officers in very high esteem, respect and honour, but the fact that after so many years of existence and still no tangible results, surely signifies the difficult challenges they are confronted with and this should ring alarm bells to the nation. The national purse is being hurt, but so far there is nothing much worth talking about as far as progress towards industrialisation of Selebi-Phikwe is concerned. Relocation of industries might be a new phenomenal development in Botswana but some other nations have undertaken these measures in the past. Some have even moved whole towns and cities especially in times of war to far off safe territories to avoid disaster. In earthquake prone areas, at times the most viable solution could be to move all developments to safer areas to avert repeat disasters. By carefully studying and putting my suggestions into trials, we may discover that indeed we have all the means and ways to save Selebi-Phikwe town for both our present and many more future generations to come. A word to the wise is enough.
*Fidelis Mafide Ncube is an entrepreneur based in Mogoditshane, Nkoyaphiri Village. He runs his own businesses and writes in his own private capacity. The views and ideas put forward here are his own and have nothing to do with his businesses. And these views and suggestions are entirely free of charge, not patented nor copyright protected; they can be used by anyone even secretly without crediting him.