Newly appointed Tati Nickel Mine General Manager, Seb Sebetlela, has vowed that he will do all that it takes to ensure that the fledging mining giant survives the financial doldrums that it presently finds itself in.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting on Friday at which he was unveiled to stakeholders and the Francistown business community, Sebetlela was quick to admit that he takes the helm at a time when the global economy is in recession with base metal prices at an all time low, therefore, painting a gloomy future for operations of mines like Tati.
“We meet at a difficult time, where every industry and business in the world is faced with the challenge of surviving through the global economic recession,” he said.
He, however, pointed out that they are already looking at avenues through which they can tailor their operations to ensure survival during such turbulent times.
“At times like these, there are no guarantees and the best that we can do is to ensure that we survive. The onus lies upon us as players in this industry to ensure that we remain standing when the situation normalizes,” he said.
With apparent reference to retrenchment, Sebetlela said that Tati Nickel management is forced to contemplate other “drastic measures” that they would “never even think about in the normal scheme of things”.
The general manager, however, pointed out that no concrete decisions have been made on the strategies that he and his team will employ, suffice to say that they will work hard to ensure that the mine remains above water.
Tati Nickel insiders defended the general manager’s indecisive stance saying that he has only assumed office at the beginning of the year. “The general manager cannot at this point give us anything concrete because he is still finding his footing. Since he assumed this post, he has been receiving briefings and familiarizing himself with the various departments at the mine. He only came back from Johannesburg on Tuesday where he had also gone for some kind of induction,” said a highly placed Tati Nickel insider.
Sebetlela also touched on the issue of corporate social responsibility, staying that Tati Nickel will continue to ensure that the communities within which it operates continue to benefit from the mine. How far the communities in Tati Nickel’s vicinity will benefit this year, given the financial dire straits the mining company finds itself in, remains a mystery. But it is important to note that, in Tati Nickel, Sebetlela has found a soul mate in as far as corporate social investment is concerned.
While he was still general manager of Orapa and Letlhakane mines, Sebetlela spearheaded an unparalleled corporate social responsibility program that saw many villages within and outside Boteti district benefiting immensely. In the same vein, Tati Nickel has, over the years, maintained a robust corporate social responsibility program, which cuts across health, education, business and citizen economic empowerment.
But it will not be smooth sailing for Sebetlela. He inherits a mine that is reportedly inundated with lackadaisical operations some of which have resulted in millions of the mining giant’s revenues going to waste. It is imperative for Sebetlela and his team to look for cost cutting avenues, especially in the face of the global financial crisis and the fall in the metal prices in particular.
At the same time, staff morale at the mining giant is said to be very low, especially as reports of impending retrenchment have started surfacing. Reports have abounded to the effect that Tati Nickel is considering cutting down on staff complement as a means of tailoring the company to attain maximum returns at limited costs. The Sunday Standard is informed that the mining giant is overstaffed and a lot of thought is being put into retrenching some employees. Such news has apparently filtered to staff and morale at the mining house is reportedly plummeting.
At the same time, the recent collapse of Tati Nickel’s sister company, Botswana Metal Refineries and its Activox project, and the subsequent loss of employment did not help the situation and almost all members of staff are walking on egg shells. The collapse of Activox has cast a dark cloud over Tati Nickel’s future prospects, especially with regards to its extended lifespan.
Over time, the company has been inundated with never ending squabbles between management, union and staff, with accusations of corruption, nepotism and unfair management practices flying thick and fast.
But those who have worked with Sebetlela are confident that he will tackle the issues at Tati Nickel in his stride and eventually turn the fledging mining giant around. Sebetlela will also enjoy the patronage and support of staff members and the union who have for long been agitating for the mine to employ a citizen general manager.
He is the fourth general manager of Tati Nickel and the first citizen general manager. He also brings a wealth of experience in the mining industry having worked for close to 30 years in Debswana. A product of Cambon School of Applied Arts and Technology, Sebetlela progressed through the ranks at Debswana until he was appointed General Manager in 2003. He is still regarded as one of Debswana’s best managers and has achieved major milestones in OLM’s corporate social responsibility policy, safety and efficiency optimization. Sebetlela took the helm at OLM at a time when the Orapa mine, the oldest in the Debswana stable, was showing signs of ageing. He was instrumental in spearheading efficiency optimization through which the mine was finally able to operate optimally but at limited cost.