A US-based company, Brite Star Aviation, has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a number of government agencies in preparation for the set-up of an aircraft manufacturing plant in Selebi-Phikwe. The MOU was signed between the company and SPEDU, Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Selebi-Phikwe Town Council, Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) and the Ngwato Land Board. Brite Star CEO, Imre Katona, said the company will set up a manufacturing plant as well as a pilot training school. The company has a number of operations in the US, Hungary and China. The Phikwe operation will be the first in Africa. Katona also confirmed that they will create 3000 jobs in the next five years and help train locals in collaboration with BIUST. It is expected that the company will manufacture from two-seater to 20-seater aircrafts at an assembly plant to be launched at the Selebi-Phikwe airport. Government has come under pressure to rescue the fortunes of Selebi-Phikwe following the closure of BCL mine last year which was the livewire of the town with over 4000 employees. Government moved to close the mine when it felt that the cost of running it were not matched by returns and was about to face litigation from unpaid suppliers. While the mine was put in liquidation prospective buyers were encouraged to bid for it with among others the royal house of Dubai – Emirates Investment House (EIH) – expressing interest in buying the mine. However, after conducting a due diligence they could not continue with the purchase.
Billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s mining company African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) has allegedly also expressed interest in buying the mine’s smelter. The court has since varied the liquidation process of the mine with some assets put on final liquidation while others are still on provisional until December 15, 2017. Meanwhile to demonstrate seriousness in safe-guarding and keeping the town alive Government appointed former Governor Linah Mohohlo to oversee investment strategy for the area, working closely with SPEDU. The Brite Star deal represents the biggest promise for a turnaround in Selebi-Phikwe. SPEDU CEO Dr Mokubung Mokubung has hailed the plant as the first in Africa and declared “the company already has orders.” The company specialises in many businesses including production of aircraft parts, various aviation solutions, pilot training, aircraft maintenance, accommodation and conferencing, travel service, leasing service and air races across various continents.
The MP for Selebi-Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse in welcoming developments said: “All projects earmarked for Phikwe look good and promising on paper. My wish is that Phikwe is given a special attention and something akin to a Marshal Plan; a reconstruction of the town’s economy. We need jobs in Phikwe and less rhetoric. First we know that the town was neglected for decades; the government in its leadership of socio-economic development failed to diversify the economy away from nickel and copper mining. They failed to set up BIUST in Phikwe and closed down BPC sub-station. They failed to turn Phikwe into a metallurgical hub and when they attempted that it was way too late. They could have processed the mate from BCL smelter in Phikwe but they didn’t invest in the industry and instead exported jobs to Zimbabwe, Norway, China and others. Phikwe ought to have the coal liquefaction plant seeking to turn coal into liquid fuels and other by-products like candles and chemicals for firms or agriculture. This plant spearheaded by Botswana Oil may go to Palapye but there is everything in Phikwe to set it up here. SPEDU according to an answer by a trade minister to a question I asked is that it has so far helped to create 300 or so jobs in almost 10 years of existence. If the pace doesn’t improve it means thousands of jobs lost at BCL can be replaced in 50 to 100 years. Phikwe and the vicinity is said to be a Special Economic Zone but all companies seeking to establish in the town are subjected to the same rules of registering a company, acquiring land, environmental impact assessment, trading licenses and other council requirements, tax regime is the same as elsewhere and many other inhibitors to doing business.
This therefore doesn’t make the town a Special Economic Zone in practice. This has to change for the better. BCL should not have closed in the first place but should have been restructured. It is pity the government can’t admit that it made a stupid and costly mistake. Some 6000 people employed directly by the BCL group and 10000 employed indirectly through outsourcing have been thrown into the streets to join the unemployed. Additional thousands at BPC, WUC and Morupule Coal Mine and other agencies that were paid huge money by BCL have either been retrenched or are facing the axe. The economic consequences of closing BCL are dire. Some have lost their lives through suicides. It will be worse when former workers are asked to vacate the mine houses they are currently occupying. Closing BCL was not only fraudulent but it was a crime against humanity akin to genocide. What we also don’t want is monuments of corruption and chicanery like the failed Palapye Glass Projects or Pula Steel. We have witnessed firms closing in Phikwe in the late 1990s and early 2000s; we have also seen public money being stolen daylight at Pula Steel which is now closed. All these envisaged projects we are being told about should take off or materialise and create jobs. If corruption is allowed in they will become just vehicles to line pockets of the few politically connected. We don’t want an unprecedented bonanza for the few affluent but we want distribution of resources equitably and this can only be achieved through productive remunerative employment.”