Tuesday, October 20, 2020

BCL doesn’t stand for Bamangwato Concessions Limited

As a statistician, Gantsi North MP, Noah Salakae, feels at home in a forest of figures and in the first two weeks of this special session of parliament, has been asking questions that require ministers to produce yards of figures-filled data. One such question required the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security to “state the annual income position of the beleaguered Bamangwato Concessions Limited for the past five years.” A standard parliamentary question on the face of it but there is one thing out of place ÔÇô the name of the company in question.

Very few know this fact but officially and for 11 years now, there has been no company called the Bamangwato Concessions Limited. (To that one could add that there is no cultural grouping called Bamangwato not least because there is no singular form for that name.) The fact of the matter is that the company that was formed in 1956 as the Bamangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) dropped its full name in 2004 when, as Sunday Standard reported then, it became just BCL Limited. The ‘B’ in the name no longer stands for Bamangwato because BCL is no longer an abbreviation and were that the case, the company would have the awkward name of Bamangwato Concessions Limited Limited. While done quietly without the sort of elaborate branding exercise that one sees today, a BCL spokesperson confirmed the name change at the time. Not communicating the name-change was definitely a bad idea because one too many people and organisations (including MPs and the National Assembly) are still likelier to refer to BCL as the Bamangwato Concessions Limited when they don’t want to use what they still think is the abbreviation.

Two Serowe men would appear to be central to the Bamangwato Concessions Limited/BCL story: one is Tshekedi Khama and the other is Festus Mogae.

Selebi Phikwe is in present-day Central District which in 1956 was officially designated Ngwato territory. It is understandable why Khama, who was Bangwato regent at the time, wanted the company that would mine copper in his land to be called Bamangwato Concessions Limited.  Then a 17-year old star student, Mogae was climbing sure-footedly up the academic ladder. To be clear, Mogae has never been personally connected to the name-change but there is no way that it would have happened without his knowledge or approval. During the 2004 interview, the BCL spokesperson steered clear of explaining the motivation for the name-change but retaining a national asset with a tribal name appears to have been the clear motivation. Six years into his presidency, Mogae had an unofficial but clear agenda to detribalize government to the extent that was possible for him. His signature legislative action in this regard was the repeal of sections 77, 78 and 79 of the constitution which recognized only eight tribes: Bangwato, Batawana, Bakgatla, Batlokwa, Balete, Barolong, Bangwaketse and Bakwena. The constitution didn’t recognize Mogae as a Motalaote. It was in this climate that the company that had been known as the Bamangwato Concessions Limited for 48 years became simply BCL Limited.

BCL has been in the news lately because the nightmare scenario of the town that hosts it becoming a ghost town is in full play. The protracted depression of prices in the commodities market has forced the mine (which was the lifeblood of both the town and the surrounding region) to shut down.

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