Hopes for revival of the economy of Selibe Phikwe were quashed on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday when Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Advocate Sadique Kebonang revealed that the BCL mine smelter will be stripped and sold. Many have been pinning their hopes on the recently refurbished multi-billion pula smelter, which was targeted to turn Botswana into a regional hub for smelting and refining of copper/nickel, even without the defunct BCL mine. Kebonang bluntly told Selibe Phikwe West MP Dithapelo Keorapetse that the story of BCL is finished, together with all its asserts. “All the asserts will be sold and the smelter is going to be stripped and sold in pieces,” revealed Kebonang who even quoted a bible verse from the Book of Job which read thus, The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” According to Kebonang the decision to dismantle and sell the BCL smelter is part of a strategy developed by the liquidator to enhance value and reduce obligations to make the resources remaining at BCL attractive to potential investors. In 2015 BCL spent P728 million on the refurbishment of the smelter, which is the biggest in the region with a capacity to treat up to 850 000mt of nickel/copper concentrates per annum. It used to treat nickel/copper concentrates across the region including from Nkomati mine but was still operating below capacity.
If it was still in operation, the smelter would have a replacement value of between US$2 billion and US$3 billion. Since it was refurbished in 2015, the smelter has never been used and when BCL was liquidated, it was one of assets that investors were interested in acquiring due to its value. On why they chose to sell off all BCL assets including the smelter, Kebonang said Selibe Phikwe does not offer any business opportunity while the Tati Nickel Mine has attracted some investors but was quick to add that currently government is not negotiating with anyone specifically. On the payment of the retrenchment packages as promised by government when the mine was closed two years ago, Kebonang said nothing will be forthcoming from the liquidation process which is a different matter. Keorapetse probed why government cannot tap into the Consolidated fund and pay retrenchment packages as government is the major shareholder and promised the workers soft landing. “We don’t want to set a very wrong precedent and the reason they were not paid retrenchment packages as their termination was not result of redundancy as envisaged by Section 25 of the Employment Act,” said Kebonang.
Selibe Phikwe now
Selibe Phikwe town currently cuts the image of a slow, sleepy town, which has left many people wondering what the future holds for its residents. After the closure of the mine, HGovernment came up with Selibe Phikwe Revitalisation Program which was aimed at reviving its economy. Two years down the line, residents of Phikwe are yet to see the fruits of the unit headed by former Bank of Botswana governor Linah Mohohlo. It is now just a monument of economic failure and painful reminder of how government is failing to resuscitate the former copper mining town. Amidst all the uncertainty on the future of the copper mining town, many pinned their hopes on the multi-billion smelter which they believe could turn the fortunes around for the town. According to the Local broking firm Motswedi Securities in the 2016 report, by researchers Garry Guma and Moemedi Mosele, BCL smelter has the potential to turn around the fortunes of BC L and that of Selibe- Phikwe. “The BCL smelter is one of the projects we believe has the potential not only to contribute positively towards the profitability of BCL but also turn Botswana into a hub for the smelting and refining of copper/nickel in the region,” reads the report.