The Botswana National Front (BNF) calls upon the Botswana government not to close down the BCL mine to save the thousands of jobs in the town. This includes jobs at the mine, government institutions, private sector and informal sector. While the mine employs around 5 000 employees, thousands of workers are also employed in several shops, banks, contractors, public and private schools, etc. All these employees are directly and indirectly connected to the BCL mine. Closure of the mine will therefore immediately trigger a litany of challenges not on job losses only, but other socio-economic issues. Livelihoods of people living in Mmadinare, Sefhophe, Bobonong, Tobane, Tswapong villages and even Francistown (Tati Nickel) will be hit hard by the mine closure. It is disheartening to note that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led government is however not dealing with the key stakeholders in good faith, especially the BCL workers and Batswana in general. A team of four cabinet Ministers who secretly visited the mining town on a quiet Sunday has only succeeded in closing the mine and leaving thousands of unsuspecting employees, residents, students, patients, etc in serious panic, distress and confusion. The BDP dismally failed to handle the closure in a professional acceptable manner. There should have been extensive consultation on the closure where the stakeholders, especially the workers and town residents are engaged to chart the way forward in a humane and less painful manner, in line with the country’s vision of a compassionate, just and caring nation. Counselling services should have been planned for if the BDP government really cares. The ministers however closed the mine in a very insensitive, reckless and uncharacteristic manner. The basic professional tenet of social dialogue, telling the truth and providing accurate facts to the workers and residents was not done by the cabinet ministers. The Ministers deliberately misled BCL workers that they will be paid for the next 12 – 18 months when the ministers knew very well that they will not do so. Also shocking is that the reasons for the mine closure are coated with lies. While the price of copper nickel is reported to be all low, corruption and mismanagement have contributed immensely to the closure. The price of the copper nickel is historically known to fluctuate and the mine has survived the storm before. The claim by government to be pumping millions of pula into the mine annually has also been dismissed as misleading by the employees as government last assisted the mine in 2003, thirteen years ago. It is still clear in the minds of Batswana how the BDP has also lied in the past, and even denied the mining operations in the CKGR; the lies peddled about the controversial Morupule B refurbishment; several corruption scandals in the construction industry which delayed completion of the national airport; schools; dams; stadium; etc. So lies characterised the closure of the mine and it will not be surprising if an investor emerges the next day and takes over the so called unprofitable BCL.
The reasons advanced by the government for the closure of the mine are therefore not acceptable. The government should mobilise enough resources and open the mine as a matter of urgency. A competent management team should be engaged to manage the affairs of the mine and this should not be done on partisanship basis, which the BDP is now using to award its party activists. The country has had enough of BDP lies, misrule, mismanagement, nepotism and all social vices which have led to the ineffectiveness of several other institutions and organisations.
There are other parastatals that are in financial troubles and may collapse if appropriate interventions are not made. These include BMC; BPC; BHC; WUC; Air Botswana, etc. Some of these have already started retrenching and restructuring. The education sector problems are increasing daily as some public institutions like colleges of education have been closed and public buildings suspiciously given to some selected private sector training institutions. The vision 2016 wanted to realise not only a united and proud nation, but prosperous Batswana. A week after Botswana turns 50, as per vision 2016, the government of Botswana throws thousands of Batswana into the streets through BCL, dampening the euphoria that was supposed to be brought by the independence and vision 2016. The independence in fact finds thousands of unemployed youths and a high incidence of poverty, hunger and starvation.
Since the liquidation is self-imposed, government as the sole shareholder should have long started the process of consulting stakeholders like workers through unions and negotiate an exit and retrenchment package before liquidation. That would ensure that the workers welfare was taken care of given the socio-economic implications not only of the workers but the households they were offering safety nets. This is what separates the BDP government from the BNF people centred policies.
The time is now long overdue for all workers of Botswana to unite and support the efforts of the Umbrella for Democratic Change and Botswana Congress Party to unseat the BDP in 2019. Let us all stand up in solidarity for BCL employees and their relatives and stop the government from turning Selibe Phikwe into a ghost town. The BDP has failed Batswana dismally and the need to change government is long overdue.
BNF Publicity Secretary
*First published in 12 October 2016