BCL miners petition Khama

SHARE   |   Monday, 31 October 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
BCL mine workers on a march in Gaboroneon Thursday BCL mine workers on a march in Gaboroneon Thursday

Hope is turning into despair for BCL miners after President Ian Khama spurned their efforts to deliver a petition containing their demands and suggestions directly to him on Thursday "due to a tight schedule". A day after the miners petitioned Khama, the Provisional Liquidator Nigel Dixon-Warren of audit firm KPMG met the leadership of Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) and BCL Citizen Senior Staff Union (BCSSU) in Gaborone on Friday morning. His message was brief. He instructed the miners to advice their comrades and colleagues to collect their individual termination letters in Selebi-Phikwe starting tomorrow (Saturday) morning 0800hrs.  "You are reminded to bring your proof of identity (BCL Identity card- all employees, Omang - citizens and Passports - non Citizens). Letters will be collected in Selebi-Phikwe as per the schedule; Area 1 - Number 3 Shaft employees; Area 2 - Metals Production employees, Support Services employees, Services employees; Ikageleng Community Hall - Selibe North employees, South East Extension employees, Botshabelo Community Hall-Selibe Shaft employees," reads Dixon-Warren's dispatch.

On Thursday, under soaring temperatures reaching 42 *C, miners trucked into Gaborone in five buses from Selebi-Phikwe and braved the scotching heat to wait at Notwane Grounds to deliver their petition to the president.  After being sent from pillar to post – with Khama's Senior Private Secretary George Tlhalerwa – refusing to confirm in writing that he will receive the petition on behalf of the president and the police refusing to grant the same marching permission without confirmation from recipient – the miners finally managed to deliver the petition after 3pm. The police only issued a permit for the march after lunch; upon receiving confirmation from OP around 1 pm. The delay in delivering the petition was caused by the unavailability of the President and the reluctance by Tlhalerwa to confirm in writing that he will receive it on behalf of Khama.

Khama, who on Thursday morning was attending Parliament to witness the election of his nominated Specially Elected Members of Parliament (SEMP), was said to be busy. He had on the previous day nominated International Economist Bogolo Kenewendo (29) and former Botswana National Front (BNF) MP Mephato Reatile – who has since defected to BDP – as SEMP.  "We are very disappointed and unhappy with the conduct of OP. We wrote them a letter a week ago notifying them about today's petition but they never acknowledged receipt until we called them on Monday and spoke to Tlhalerwa. He then advised that we specify our request since we had also indicated the desire to hold a meeting with the president in the same letter," fumed David Busang, BMWU publicity chairman. Busang said although Tlhalerwa promised to receive the petition on behalf of Khama – after explaining that the latter was busy on Thursday – he was reluctant to put that in writing. Without confirmation from the recipient the police declined to issue a permit, which led to a standoff that took a better part of the day.

In the petition the miners oppose "the sudden and unwarranted closure of these mines. The on-going liquidation is not only shocking but most inappropriate," they said. The miners argue that: BCL mine is still viable business of considerable economic value and can make profits if it is freed of mismanagement; Tati Nickel mine is a viable operation not in debt trap; and that reasons given to justify closure are inaccurate. They, therefore propose: That the entire liquidation process be set aside to save a total of 6 000 jobs and to remove the inherent socio-economic upheavals affecting the nation at large; a debriefing meeting with Khama to understand the workers' position; an enquiry into recommendations by BCL and Tati Nickel Management, Mineral Development Corporation Botswana (MDCB) and cabinet sub-committee; permission to conduct independent private investigation into operations of the smelter and mining development; the amendment of Insolvency Act and the Company's Act to protect the rights of workers during liquidation process.

The petition provides a summary of three other petitions handed since 2014 to former Board Chairman Dr Akolang Tombale, and later in 2016 to Kitso Mokaila – former Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources and Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Ever since the closure of the mines on October 07, and as far back as 2014 senior government officials in the Khama administration have either ignored requests for a meeting with BMWU or never attended to grievances raised in petitions delivered to their offices. In 2014, the miners tried to blow the whistle about mismanagement following questionable decisions through a petition to the then Board Chairman Dr Tombale. The miners warned that BCL was on the verge of total collapse if government failed to evaluate the decisions made by management. Tombale ignored them. Two years later, at the beginning of 2016, BMWU delivered yet another petition to Minister Mokaila. Government never acted on the warning bells. After several months, the union escalated their concerns over mismanagement at BCL through a petition to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Just like all other officials the VP never responded until the mine was abruptly placed under provisional liquidation on October 07.

The union is not happy that President Khama has not visited BCL or any of the places affected by closure.  "This demonstrates how much the President does not care about our situation. After sending a number of his juniors we were hoping that he would make time to listen to us to appreciate the situation on the ground first hand," complains Busang. BMWU and BCSSU collectively represent over 4000 miners at BCL in Selebi-Phikwe and 700 at Tati Nickel Mining Company in Francistown. The two mines were placed under provisional liquidation on October 07. The liquidator's report is expected in February 2017. 

Premium Holidays
Meanwhile the oldest and leading life insurer in the country- Botswana Life – which enjoys an estimated market share of over 72% - is the first to show empathy to affected BCL and Tati Nickel Mine policy holders. Following the closure and liquidation of the BCL and Tati Nickel mines, Botswana Life Insurance Limited (BLIL), has offered to carry the weight of financial risk of a ‘premium holiday’ which it has offered the affected policy holders to show empathy and support.  Botswana Life currently manages a portfolio of almost 300,000 policies and an Annual Recurring Premium of P1 billion. According to Public Relations Manager Boa Chombah, employees who have existing risk policies will be cushioned as much as possible during their time of duress. "Once there has been official confirmation of when the employees of BCL and Tati Nickel mines will receive their last salary, Botswana Life will offer a 6 month premium holiday for all risk policies. This premium holiday will start the month following the policy holders’ last salary payment," said Chombah in a statement on Thursday, adding that the company reinforces its brand proposition in the midst of one of the worst socio-economic crises in the recent history of our local economy.

“We have been around for 41 years and weathered various domestic and international economic cycles and storms. We have made a commitment to our valued customers that we will help them Walk Tall in their time of need, and this is how we practically demonstrate this. Now is the time. We are prepared to shoulder the financial risk and exposure that we will incur by offering the premium holiday,” said Botswana Life CEO, Bilkiss Moorad. She said they are cognizant of the broad ramifications on individuals' and families’ livelihoods, and that this is not the time to shy away but rather to act responsibly and constructively where possible to minimise the harsh landing for many. In order to reduce certain living costs, policy holders are reminded of the Life-rewards Card that can help at this time. The benefits of the card include amongst others, discounts at a variety of merchants and highly discounted funeral benefits. Botswana Life has also engaged an expert to provide counseling to its affected clients.