CAS Consultants, an international consultancy company, blatantly warned the government that if it does not take any action aimed at diversifying the economy of Selebi-Phikwe it risks prospects of a revolution.
In its bulky report delivered to the government recently, the consultants stated nine strategic points adding that “doing nothing is not an option”.
“The implication of the closure of the BCL Mine would, in the absence of diversification programme, be severe. Loss of employment would directly affect around 15,000 people, and it is estimated that the knock-on effects would mean that over 30,000 people would lose their livelihoods.
“Social effects would include a growth in crime, disruption of families and growth of low wage and informal employment,” the report, which was recently adopted by cabinet, said.
The BCL Mine ÔÇô which is a copper/nickel mine ÔÇöwas opened in 1974 and is expected to be depleted by 2020. The mine has a long running history of being unprofitable, until recently when it started to record some record profits, thanks to the guidance of Mont Wendi Mphathi and the booming Chinese economy.
Over the years, the government has been engaged in a raft of programmes aimed at diversifying the economy of Selebi-Phikwe which is home to about 55,000 people but almost all of the programmes failed.
At the close of the last century, the government came up with BEDIA (the Botswana Export Development Authority) which came right on the heels of free export zone – both failed. The new approach is an implicit recognition of the irrelevance of BEDIA. Going forward, the government wills set-up an office which will be in charge of the running of the affairs of Selebi-Phikwe. The office will report to Mosses Lekaukau who is the head of the government implementation projects.
“If Selebi-Phikwe becomes a ‘ghost town’ this would ruin Botswana’s image. If no immediate action is taken, businesses and skilled personnel would start leaving the town even before the mine closure and, politically, the government and local council will face serious criticism”, the report said.
The report, based on the UK model of Cardiff and New Castle, recommended the injection of billions of pula into the town over the next six years to keep it alive beyond mining.
According to the plan, some of the measures that need to be taken include the setting up of a mining university which will be the first of its kind in Africa. Further, it states that the mine by itself and Letsibogo Dam offer an opportunity of being a tourist attraction area.
“Experience from other parts of the world where mines have closed offers no exact parallel for Selebi-Phikwe. Any diversification programme should be independent of the outcome of the mining operation. Doing nothing is not an option. Government support (national and local) and that of the community for new investment, attracting new employment, training and environment clean-up is essential, and there is a need to ensure easy access and welcoming environment for prospective investors.
“Any diversification programme for Selebi Phikwe must take place within Botswana’s regulatory and procedural environment. A recent World Bank/ IMF report recommends steps for streaming and simplifying several of these to improve the business environment,” the report added.
It said other immediate actions that need to be taken going forward include scheduled flights to Selebi Phikwe and government to aggressively take interest in regional developments such as 2010 Soccer World Cup games to be staged in South Africa. Further, government has been urged to address the issue of lack of credit and access to finance faced by Batswana.
The tough consultants said the mission for the turning around of Selebi Phikwe needs a long term plan which will, among other things, include the setting up of a diversification plan, government’s funding commitment and the adoption of a “charter” for the future of the town and the setting up of a university which will be the centre of technical education and learning.