Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Francistown’s economic prospects plummet as Activox project collapses

The economic prospects of the city of Francistown are once again at their lowest ebb after the collapse of the Activox project. Botswana’s second city is once again facing bleak economic prospects reminiscent of yester years when it had little or no developments with a negligible contribution to the national economy because of the limited economic activity that was going on in the city.

But all that was shelved when Francistown, which has a rich history as a mining town, once again experienced an unprecedented economic boom after the discovery of copper, nickel and gold in areas surrounding the city, which culminated in the opening of the Tati Nickel and Mupane mines. Recent developments at the Mowana mine in nearby Dukwi also served to once again escalate the economic prospects of Francistown.

Suddenly, Francistown was the pride of Botswana as it was once again a key player in the national economy. Industries that had in the past relocated to Gaborone and other areas in search of greener pastures suddenly found it fitting to establish centers in Francistown with a view to tapping into the lucrative business opportunities presented by the mushrooming of mining houses and the resultant population boom.

Demand for retail and office space skyrocketed as businesses opened up shop in Francistown. Real Estate companies smiled all they way to the bank as, after years of drought, they were suddenly enjoying 100% occupancy rates. With demand for retail and office space skyrocketing, the real estate companies also hiked their prices. An official from a leading property company in Francistown told The Sunday Standard that they experienced a spike in the demand for office and warehouse space as companies relocated to the city.

The resurgence of the mining activities breathed new life into the Francistown’s economy boosting the retrial, property and transport sectors. High flying mining executives and young technicians with money to spend flocked into the city to get new jobs and once again Francistown was back to life.

Then an announcement was made by Lion Ore International, then owners of the Tati Nickel Mine, that Francistown will be home to the world’s first ever Activox refinery technology. Pundits commented that the city of Francistown will this time become not only a major player in the national economy but also in the regional and international industry. Through the Activox technology Francistown would contribute millions to Botswana’s gross domestic product and foreign currency earnings. Still, more people flocked to the city. Almost everyone who was a resident of Francistown and surrounding villages was suddenly employed in a certain capacity at the mines. It was expected that the Botswana Metal Refineries plant will, at peak construction, generate three thousand jobs and the returns to the economy of the city of Francistown were unimaginable. Even after the plant was complete, it would still create a lot of employment for the people of Francistown and neighboring villages. The good thing about the refinery was that, unlike the mines, it has no definite lifespan and would continue to refine metals from international mines in future and generate income for Botswana’s future generations.

Even the Francistown City Council was probed to life as they escalated development projects to cater for the population boom brought about by the mining activities. Some companies were able to generate income from the city council as, burdened with ever increasing demand for services, the FCC outsourced some of its services like garbage collection. Already there are plans to build a dual carriageway from Tonota to Francistown to cater for the ever increasing traffic. Construction of the city stadium is already underway while the renovation and refurbishment of the airport with a view to bringing it to international standards is in the pipeline. Even the landscape and development projects in the city were improving to a state befitting its economic stature.

High earning mining executives went on the look out for executive houses in the suburban areas of the city. Rental prices escalated as mining employees flocked into the city in search of houses for rent. Those who could not afford the escalating rental prices suddenly found themselves sharing fences with illegal immigrants in the crime infested shanty areas of the city. Everyone who was worth his salt was suddenly rushing to refurbish their houses and install air conditioners, electric fences and security walls to draw the attention of the ready-to-spend mine employees. Mining houses went on a rampage looking for executive houses to rent for their top executives. Francistown‘s leading businessmen built executive town houses with a view to renting them out to the mining houses.

The mining boom was an advantage to Francistown in that it not only sparked the economic boom that resuscitated the once docile city but also generated income for even the smallest of the economic players in the city. The businesses that flocked to Francistown to provide supplies and services to the mining houses also employed locals.

Then an announcement was made that Norilsk Nickel and the government of Botswana had decided to indefinitely suspend the Activox refinery project because of cost restrictions and the unreliable power situation in the region. Over a thousand employees who were employed during the construction of the refinery plant lost their jobs and many of them are back on the streets. The projected three thousand who would be employed at peak construction have also lost out on prospective employment. This amounts to a major blow to the economic prospects of the city.

The Activox project was a milestone in the history of Francistown as it would put the city on the international map. It would not only generate lots of income and employment for the city, but would also improve the prospects of the city as it would extend the lifespan of Tati nickel mine. But then without even a warning, the rug was pulled from under the feet of the poor Francistowners and, within a matter of hours, the city’s economic prospects were suddenly bleak. Businesses have lost millions in set up costs as they were readying to reap profits by servicing the Activox project.

The Sunday Standard was informed on Friday that the proposed P100 million golf estates in Francistown that was primarily driven by the resurrection of mining activity around the city does not look like a profitable prospect anymore because of uncertainty surrounding the economic future of the city. The golf estate, an initiative of property giants, Tati Company, was to be situated in the southern parts of the city. The golf course was expected to be ready for tee-off in two years’ time with a coast of P25 million to completion.
It was revealed during the unveiling of the project that Tati Company and Time Projects had been doubtful about the viability of the project for years and they were buoyed to action by the resurgence of mining activities in Francistown.

A leading property manager in Francistown told The Sunday Standard on Friday that Francistown has traditionally been shunned by potential investors because of the absence of a top of the range golf course and private hospital.

“The idea was to tap into the potential of mining houses as they have an abundance of executive employees who demand such services, and make them strategic partners in the project. But, as things stand presently, I cannot say what the future holds for the proposed golf estate,” he said.

The estate was to have over 300 plots available for purchase. Tati Nickel, as a strategic partner, would purchase some of the plots to build houses for their executives while other plots would be sold to individual developers or members of the public. Other projected developments surrounding the golf estates included a private school and shopping complex.

But then all this has the possibility of going to waste, and Francistowners are left with mouths agape as the future of their beloved city, which was once very rosy, is slowly beginning to look bleaker and bleaker.

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