Opposition feed on BCL tragedy

SHARE   |   Monday, 17 October 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Opposition leaders addressing the miners in Selebi-Phikwe Opposition leaders addressing the miners in Selebi-Phikwe

As the vultures circle over Selebi-Phikwe to devour what remains of the once vibrant mining town, opposition politicians have drawn the first blood calling on voters to remove the BDP government, less than a week after BCL shut down. A strong contingent of all opposition party leaders descended in the small town on Thursday morning to tell disillusioned BCL workers that they are fed lies as there are alternatives to keep the mine alive and save their jobs, but government chose to close it abruptly. The President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko and his VP Ndaba Gaolathe of BMD, Motlatsi Molapisi of BPP together with BCP President Dumelang Saleshando came down heavily on government for failing to protect jobs at BCL. They all insisted that government should not have closed the mine but should have considered other options like business process re-engineering or restructuring management of BCL to appoint competent people. The three opposition MPs - Boko, Gaolathe and MP for Selebi-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse – have promised to force a special of Parliament sitting next week (October 26) to discuss the unfolding BCL crisis. They will also lobby other MPs to call for the release of a report on investigations carried out by cabinet at BCL and the re-opening of the mine.

Opening the discussion, Keorapetse said Botswana should have negotiated a repayment plan to settle the Norilsk Nickel debt for the purchase of shares at Nkomati and Tati Nickel instead of closing BCL. Dismissing reasons advanced by government for the closure of BCL – that depressed copper prices is the main cause – Keorapetse said: "It is not true that government has been bailing out BCL for 40 years as announced by Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. It is not true that BCL produces low quality ore as some shafts are very productive. It is also not true that the mine has grown too deep to mine as elsewhere in the world mines operate shafts far deeper than BCL". For his part Saleshando accused the BDP government of lying and trying to turn Botswana into a Ghost country. He said the closure of BCL could be a strategy to liquidate and steal public asset to enrich some people close to government, as it happened in other countries. He said closing BCL is tantamount to killing Selebi Phikwe town. "This is a self-made crisis. A man-made disaster and a planned panic mode," he said.

Boko said a fallacy is being perpetuated by those claiming that government does not have a responsibility to create jobs. He said the BCL tragedy is caused by failure of political leadership, who stood aside when management was making reckless and irresponsible decision depleting resources. "In less than four years after (Montwedi) Mphathi left close to P4 billion in BCL coffers, the funds have been wasted recklessly. Go ne go jewa madi sekutwane," said Boko. "Even as we are told there is no money for government programmes like HIV/AIDS and Poverty eradication the President just recently blew P350 million on a luxurious helicopter. Before that P16 billion was spent on fighter jets purchased in Sweden. A week after blowing another P100 million on celebrations they close BCL, dismissing 5 000 workers. We have a government of liars. Government lied to BCL workers," fumed Boko, challenging President Ian Khama to a national debate on the BCL decision. He said numerous calls by opposition MPs for recapitalisation of BCL by P6 billion, which were supported by the then minister of minerals were rejected by the BDP government.  In an all-out bare knuckled attack, Boko stopped short of accusing the Khama administration of racism. He said a trend is developing where appointments to key positions and lucrative jobs is done along racial lines, with white people favoured over their black counterparts.  "While the population remains black at the bottom, it is becoming lily white at the top," he said,  wondering why a senior attorney legal consultant Jeffrey Bookbinder – was engaged by government to file an application with the High Court for the appointment of a liquidator  Nigel Dixon-Warren, when the same could be done by a legal secretary. 

In a parting shot Boko said under the current government Board members who neglect their fiduciary responsibilities are never taken to task. He cited the former BCL board chairman Dr Akolang Tombale, saying after killing the mine with poor decisions he was promoted and appointed BMC Chief executive officer, which he said is likely to collapse. He blamed the miners for the problems besieging BCL for voting the government. "You get the government you deserve. The current government is a curse but you are at fault for electing these people. Only you, the voters, can bring in people that can bring change to this country," he said. Boko was taking the cue from the soft spoken BMD president Ndaba Gaolathe, who decried the appointment of bootlickers and sycophants to strategic positions in sectors which are the backbone of the economy. He said the economy of Botswana is generally in danger as these yes-men never question authorities but instead implement decisions that favour the rulers without consideration for the consequences. "This practice is a recipe for disaster and can only lead to the collapse of the whole economy," charged Gaolathe. He said for a long time government has been feeding the public lies as Selebi-Phikwe is not even mentioned anywhere in the Macro Economic model, which the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning use as a blue print for national development planning.

The political landscape
Five constituencies, all but one held by the ruling BDP, form the catchment area for the economy of the SPEDU region, which is centred around the survival of BCL mine. They are Mmadinare, Bobonong, Sefhare-Ramokgonami and the two Selebi-Phikwe constituencies. The two MPs in the mining town are Keorapetse (West) and Nonofo Molefhi (East). Of the two, Keorapetse is a clear favourite to the miners because of numerous efforts he made on the floor of Parliament, trying to get government to avert disaster at BCL. Such was made clear when thousands of miners gathered at Selebi-Phikwe stadium on Tuesday gave Keorapetse a standing ovation while booing his counterpart from the East. More than accusing MP Molefhi of neglecting their course, workers are unanimous that he has failed them. They said as a cabinet minister in the BDP administration, Molefhi was in a better position to have monitored developments at BCL to avoid the mismanagement and running down of the mine by Dan Mahupela's led EXCO. The only thing Molefhi – incoming Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development – has done so far is to call on BCL workers to be patient and cooperate with government. He expressed hope that an investor will soon be identified to inherit the mine, but the miners dismiss the suggestion as there will be no guarantees for them to return to work. Molefhi's party – the BDP – has not commented on the developments at BCL, a week after the mine was closed. 

Political observers opine that if government does not move fast to reverse the loss of jobs, the ruling BDP could suffer a backlash from voters particularly in constituencies under the SPEDU region. After initially promising that government will continue paying salaries to BCL workers for the next 18 months without production, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi shocked the miners on Tuesday evening when he guaranteed salaries for October month only. Asked if government has reneged on the 18 months promise, Minister of Minerals Sadique Kebonang said such will depend on the advice from the liquidator. The reality, however, is that Masisi had been at pains to explain that the sudden closure of the mine was because BCL can no longer afford the P69 million monthly wage bill.  "Where would the money come from since production has stopped? It would not make business sense to continue paying workers for sitting at home for 18 months. It would demonstrate that government has the money to avert closure," a geologist at the mine (who pleaded for anonymity) said. A peep at the results of the 2014 parliamentary elections shows that a united opposition already threatens the BDP in most constituencies. The closure of BCL could only reverse the fortunes of the ruling party. 

Results of 2014 Parliamentary Elections

Selebi Phikwe East
Nonofo Molefhi           BDP 3376
Kgoberego Nkawana  BCP 3134
Dimpho Mashaba        UDC979
Oarabile Tshenyego    IND 818

Selebi Phikwe West
Dithapelo Keorapetse  BCP  4247
Opelo Makhandlela     BDP  3187
Moeti Mohwasa          UDC  1215

Shaw Kgathi          BDP 7350
Taolo Lucas           BCP  7230
Kgaugelo Machete  UDC  162

Kefentse Mzwinila               BDP 7325
Christopher Motsholapheko  BCP 3117

Dorcus Makgato               BDP   7459
Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang  BCP 5907

% poll ranges between 81-85%

Performance by administrative district


Selebi Phikwe Town Council