Tati Nickel mine collapse: 2 years later 

SHARE   |   Monday, 19 March 2018   |   By Bakani Mosojane 
Tati Nickel mine collapse: 2 years later 

Botswana is one the many countries that is fortuitous to boast of a myriad diverse wealth of minerals.The northern region more specifically the North East District, boasts a brilliant mineral portfolio, manifest by the large copper, nickel and gold deposits found in that region. This area is a stable full of operations with Francistown and its surrounds having  mines that amongst others include Tati Nickel Mine, BCL mine and Mophane gold mine. Tati nickel mining company ( TNMC), founded in 1988, based in Francistown played a pivotal  role in the economy of the second city and its surroundings. TNMC , with mine sites in Selkirk and Phoenix, explored and produced copper/nickel matter. As a result of subdued commodity prices, with copper/nickel mines failing to sell their metals at profitable market price to keep them afloat, TNMC finally closed their operations, a chain reaction from the closure of its parent mine BCL mine due to escalating operational costs and huge debts.  The closure of TNMC had a devastating impact on the city of Francistown and the surrounding settlements. Firstly the initial retrenchments took a catastrophic toll on the locals. Aveng Moolmans, an outfit contracted to do works within the mine, laid off over 500 employees greatly reducing the amount of capital injected into the local economy, through purchase of goods and services. The retail, banking, commercial and otherwise, as well as the hospitality and tourism industry took a hit as a result of the mine's collapse. The national airline, Air Botswana, also was affected , as they had a direct route from Francistown to Johannesburg, catering for expatriates who travelled  frequently between the two cities or those  travelling on business. The closure of the mine drastically affected the volumes of passengers on the route. To compound the problem employees of the mine, who were not contractors and sub-contractors, were also laid off further plunging Francistown into an economic quagmire. Small companies that were contracted to do works at the  mine also had to close for business and retrench their workers as the work they were doing at the mine was their core business. Two years down the line the socio-economic situation in Francistown has not improved, if anything it has worsened. An employee of one of the local retail shops, Pick n Pay, who preferred anonymity, echoed that ever since the closure of the mine business has visibly declined. The long queues at the tills that used to characterize their shop, before mine closure are no longer existent. He says the walled community that housed some mine employees had a restaurant that heavily depended on Pick n Pay for premium brands like mushrooms and asparagus, hardly found elsewhere has left town since the closure of TNMC. Demand for these upmarket cuisine ingredients has since diminished. The industry that does not seem to be  so badly affected by the closure of the mine is the 

Only alcohol consumption in Francistown seems to have survived the debilitating consequences possibly because many have resorted to draining their sorrows with liquor because of prevaiing economic dire straits. The once booming economy of Francistown has stagnated, while many beneficiaries have been left in the lurch in the wake of its closure due to dearth of vital Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Drastic consequences on business enterprises have been felt everywhere. A company that specializes in mine related equipment, has had to clear their stock and lease their warehouse, as their business was disrupted. They are owed large amounts of money by the mine, but without getting any  payment to keep the business afloat they just get letters from the liquidator, who are coy with any plans of payment, regardless of services rendered and goods delivered. Ali Parekh, Managing Director of Security Services, says the closure of the mine deeply impacted their business, as their core relationship with the mine was to provide security and transport; 100 security guards were dispensed to both the mine and Aveng Moolmans.  Parekh's company provided buses that transported Moolman workers to and from the mine. They had six, 65 seater buses and three, 25 seater buses. The collapse of TNMC resulted in these operations  being frozen indefinitely. The 100 guards were redeployed to other areas, as part of a contingency plan to avert the worser evil of retrenchment. The decision cost the company heavily and offset their projected profit margins. The buses were put up for sale and so far 85% of the busses have been sold at a loss, to facilitate the motor vehicle repayment plan.TNMC closure has also upset the property market in the region. Elijah Gwamulumba, a registered valuer and an employee of a reputable property valuer and  Estate Agent, gave insight into the impact of  the closure of the TNMC on the real estate market. Firstly, he illustrated that the tenants of the houses that had been occupied by TNMC had demanded extra features to make them comfortable. TNMC could afford high rentals of houses with extra feature for comfort like  airconditioners, security alarms, guards and perimeter walls.  The departure of good paying tenants has made finding replacements to pay exorbitant rentals impossible. Another problem for property owners is that they were guaranteed to repay mortgages from rentals from the mine employees. They are now caught in a dilemma  as they are compromised in terms of capital to repay the loans. The real estate market remains depressed. Large property owners of gated communities and complexes like Ngiligichi village, Nkgwana park, Masa and Gwizi flats are hard hit by the closure of the TNMC as a large number of employees were staying in these multi-residential  homes.

A local consultant, when asked for an analysis on the closure of the mine, pointed out that the mines were the life blood of the economy of Francistown and the North as a whole. The workers of the mine, especially the executives, were the prime earners, as they were in the top income earner bracket. They drove the economy, as they set up investment portfolios, inclusive of real estate and other fiscal generating activities. The following category is your non-executive  employees and followed by blue collar workers, and all these collectively greatly contribute to the monetary circulation within the community. "The removal of these categories from the economy as a result of them being retrenched  creates a void in those spending and contributing greatly to the economy, leaving few people with high spending power, limiting economic growth and the money that is being exchanged from different sectors of the community. The fact that Francistown was over reliant on the mine made  the city more susceptible to economic challenges, as alternative income generating and economically stimulating sectors and diverse industry are rare. This makes it difficult for the city of Francistown to come out of this economic rut," he said. From a social perspective, the transition from a top income earner to being unemployed must have a demoralizing depressive dynamic , and this is manifest by the suicides that have occurred as direct results of this mass retrenchment. Moving children from the sheltered life of an English medium to a less comfortable government school also plays on the psyche of the child, as the mine is no longer providing   the exorbitant school fees of a private school, as a fringe benefit. Marriages are also jeopardized as reduced or nil income in the household causes constant tension,  that would not play out if at least there was the comfort of money and the luxury it brings to ease the fissiporous nature of the relationship.