President Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama last week commended Botswana Ash (Botash) for its resilience in overcoming setbacks and rising to become a major contributor to Botswana’s economy. Speaking at a handover ceremony of some Botash corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects in Sowa town, President Khama said Botash has an interesting history of overcoming setbacks such as the 1995 liquidation and the 1996 floods that threatened its business and survival.
“Needless to say they weathered the storm and emerged as a significant contributor towards the country’s economic growth and development,” he said.
He further commended Botash for maintaining a positive outlook that will enable it to continue contributing positively to Botswana’s economy, despite the challenges faced by the minerals sector because of depressed markets.
“I am informed that in the 2015 financial year, Botash paid the government of Botswana P91 million as dividends. I am also told that Botash is the largest single customer of Botswana Railways, with whom it has a 25 year agreement. This contract has allowed Botswana Railways to purchase dedicated rolling stock for the transportation of both salt and soda ash to its main market in South Africa. This is indeed a good example of how linkages should be nurtured within the economy so as to contribute towards economic diversification, employment creation and national prosperity,” said President Khama.
Established in 1991, Botash is jointly owned by the Botswana government and Chlor Alkali Holdings (CAH) Group, a South African company, at 50 percent shareholding each. The company is the largest producer of natural sodium products, producing soda ash and salt in the Southern African region. The company was previously known as Soda Ash Botswana in the late 80’s and owned by Anglo American Corporation and the government of Botswana. At the time, government played a critical role in Soda Ash Botswana as it not only invested funds in the project, but also facilitated various deals to enable provision of infrastructure and services such as housing, rail, water and electricity.
“It is doubtful if the project could have seen the light of the day if government had not been an active investor and facilitator,” said Botash Managing Director Montwedi Mphathi.
Soon after the project was commissioned, prices of soda ash declined markedly due to unlawful trading activities by competitors, which culminated in liquidation of the business in 1995. The business was restructured as Botswana Ash, with government once again playing a major role in the whole process. Botash faced yet another challenge in 1996 when its solar ponds were flooded by water from the pan following unusually heavy rains, interrupting production for several months. Once again government came to the rescue, deploying the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to assist.
“The participation of government in Botash reduced the project risks enough for the other parties to participate,” said Mphathi.
He urged government to replicate this model to other similar ventures in which firms would be averse to investing on their own; adding that once the investment reaches maturity government can always sell its shareholding and re-invest the proceeds in the next best venture with long term potential for returns and employment creation. Mphathi also called on government to include Sowa Town as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for chemical manufacturing to take advantage of the sodium resource in the pans and leverage the infrastructure that is already in place.
Botash also donated three CSR projects to the Sowa Town Community, including a guidance and counselling centre at Nxakato Junior Secondary School and a science laboratory at Flamingo International School. Botash also re-introduced 10 zebras into the mine game reserve. The projects were officially handed over by President Khama. Mphathi said by bringing animal species such as zebras into the area, Botash hopes to encourage investment in tourism to complement mining activities and create employment.
“We also believe these CSR projects will go a long way towards improving the quality of education in the town while helping to attract and retain talent for the mine and the community at large,” he said.
When handing over the CSR projects, President Khama said Botash has illustrated what good corporate responsibility is all about.
“I am very happy to have just handed over a guidance and counselling centre and a science laboratory that were donated by Botash, attesting to the company’s commitment to education,” he said.
He further revealed that Botash goes an extra mile by allocating part of their profits to funding social investment, spending time to work on community based initiatives like education, tourism and environmental conservation. Botash also participates in projects such as the Makgadikgadi framework management plan, Makgadikgadi Epic, Race for Rhinos as well as ICT educational parks.
“Botash is also actively working on a project to reintroduce some wildlife species that were previously endangered. This morning I was pleased to release 10 zebras into the Botash lease area as part of a bigger plan to reintroduce rhinos, gemsbok and eland. I wish to thank the Board of Directors of Botash. Their generosity is an example that should be emulated by other Batswana,” said President Khama.