Botswana Ash(BOTASH) (Pty) Ltd Managing Director, Kangangwani Phatshwane is happy that the mine performed well in 2019 despite economic challenges in its South African market.
South Africa is the major buyer of BOTASH products as it imports 92 percent Soda Ash and 50 percent salt from the mine. Phatshwane said this when responding to the Sunday Standard questions last week.
“There has been contraction in the soda market in South Africa due to sluggishness of the economy but our performance is satisfactory,” he said.
Although he could not reveal any financial figures at the time, he said that the mine had to increase its customer base from countries such as Zambia and Angola to mitigate the challenge.
BOTASH is the largest producer of natural sodium products in the region. It produces 300 000 tonnes of soda ash and 650 000 tonnes of salt tones per annum. Salt contributes to 20 percent of the mine’s revenue while Soda ash contributes 80 percent.
Touching on the other key achievements he said their performance on safety was excellent running for the whole year without a lost time injury. Phatshwane said this is a big deal for them given their commitment to the safety of employees, contractors and visitors.
BOTASH has 500 direct employees and 200 long term contractors. He also said that the mine retained a very high customer satisfaction index ranging between 80 and 90 percent in the various countries which they trade in across Southern Africa.
“We also increased the production volume of table salt business. The most significant challenge was logistics occasioned by operational challenges at Transnet Freight Rail and Botswana Railways coupled with the contraction in Soda Ash demand in South Africa,” he said.
As part of the efforts to mitigate transport challenges he said they have introduced a hybrid model which combines the use of road and rail. He said a number of road transporters have been retained on longer term contracts which has lowered costs. He emphasized that they will continue to engage the two rail operators being Botswana Railways and Transnet Freight Rail.
The mine exports its products to the following countries; South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Saudi Arabia. Asked on the mine’s efforts to diversify its products to avoid over reliance on soda ash he said development work has proceeded steadily in that regard.
“The intention is to reduce reliance on soda ash which generates around 80 percent of the revenue. Development work has proceeded steadily towards the production of two new products ;sodium bicarbonate used for cleaning sulphur emissions from power stations and sulphate of potash which is a component of fertilizer,” Phatshwane explained.
In terms of localization of jobs, he said 98.4 percent positions are held by citizens. He however said they have shortage of skilled workforce especially in the fields of safety management, marketing and rigging. On what BOTASH is doing to diversify the economy of Sowa Township and the surrounding villages where it is does business, he said they have developed a conservation park which houses some key species which used to be endemic on the eastern Sua Pan.
“In the future tourists from lodges in Nata will be allowed to visit the park. We are in the process of facilitating the establishment of an ecolodge within our mining lease. We continue to participate in events such as the Makgadikgadi epic,” he said in conclusion.
Located in Sua Pan in the northern part of the country, BOTASH is owned by the government of Botswana and Chlor Alkali Holdings (CAH) Group, a South African company, at 50 percent shareholding each.