Tuesday, September 29, 2020

New cement mine to open soon in Francistown

The thriving mining industry in the northern parts of Botswana is expected to get yet another boost as Matsiloje Portland Cement is expected to restart production at the cement mine along the Francistown-Matsiloje road.

Matsiloje Portland Cement is managed by the owners of Nortex, one of Botswana’s elite textile factories, which has been operating in Francistown for the past 18 years, with a total investment of over P100 million. The managing director of the company, Rachit Josh, told The Sunday Standard that they were granted a mining license by the Department of Mines last year and that they have been busy refurbishing the plant which is now on target to start production in July this year.

At the completion of the first phase of the refurbishment process, which involves construction and installation of new state of the art machinery, the mine is expected to produce 65 tons of cement per day. However, production is expected to increase to 400 tons per day after the second phase of the refurbishment process which is expected to be completed by December this year.
The Matsiloje cement mine, initially funded by the National Development Bank, was closed down a few years ago after the owners stopped production and the new owners bought it for around P1.5 million at a subsequent NDB auction in 2006.

“The place was literally falling apart and we had to refurbish it and install new state of the art machinery for smoother production. The project is jointly funded by FNB and Barclays bank,” said Rachit Josh.

He also revealed that they have so far invested over P80 million into the project. At full capacity, the mine is expected to employ over 400 people.
Josh dismissed fears that they have put money into a project that might prove to be unprofitable in future, especially since the mine has folded in the past, saying that their preliminary surveys and resource drilling have indicated that there is an abundance of limestone in the area, and that the mine will be profitable if properly managed.

“We hope to be able to augment the severe shortage of cement in the northern parts of Botswana, especially since demand is expected to escalate with numerous construction projects coming like the Dikgathong dam, the Matsiloje-Zimbabwe road, the Francistown airport, the stadium and many others,” he said.

He also revealed that they are also looking into providing cement at competitive prices.
“With the new state of the art machinery we hope to be able to provide good quality cement at very reasonable prices. The present price of cement, around P50 per bag, is ridiculously high,” he said.

But it has since emerged that the efforts of Matsiloje Portland Cement have been continuously frustrated by government red tape and bureaucracy as well as service providers, like the Water Utilities Corporation and Botswana Power Corporation. Their efforts to employ skilled expatriate manpower have not borne fruit as their permit applications have been repeatedly denied by the labour department.

“There is a serious shortage of skilled manpower in the mining industry, especially with the construction boom caused by the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa, but the Labour and Immigration department continues to make unreasonable demands which have greatly retarded our progress,” said Josh.

Then the BPC also refused to connect power to Matsiloje Cement Mine, demanding that they clear off the previous owner’s outstanding balance which ran at around P100 000. As if that was not enough, the WUC, which provides them with raw water, is steadfastly refusing to connect them with pure drinking water for consumption by the employees who are currently working there. Their reasons, says Josh, are that the company might use the pure water for construction. This is despite the fact that there is a pipeline to Matsiloje that runs hardly a few meters from where the plant is situated. “I now have to carry a 20 liter drum filled with water everyday for my employees and it is really draining,” said a frustrated Josh.

All of these factors have accumulated and almost halted the construction process at the mine, and the deadline for first production has been postponed because the construction has almost come to a stand still. However, Josh remains confident that the company is on target to start the first phase by July and the second phase by December.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.