Francistown city councilors last week squared off with the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Patrick Ralotsia after his announcement that government may close the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Abattoir in Francistown because it is making losses.
Briefing the councilors during a special council meeting last week, the Minister said that Francistown BMC was not viable to operate, therefore it would ultimately close business.
“As you are well aware, Francistown abattoir was established to try and help farmers who by then had to drive their cattle on foot or transport them to BMC in Lobatse which was difficult for them. Currently there are three BMC abattoirs, which are Lobatse, Francistown and Maun. However Francistown is underperforming as farmers are not bringing cattle forth for slaughter. It is bleeding the commission a lot of money and it is not proving to be sustainable,” he said.
Francistown BMC was established in 1989.
Ralotsia said the Ministry has since engaged farmers in the Francistown region and their complaints are that they cannot sell their cattle to the abattoir as the cattle prices are low and complain of late payments. He said all these problems led to a cash flow problem. He said since 2013, Francistown BMC has never reached half of its capacity despite the fact that it has a state of the art infrastructure and equipment which is the best in the country.
Ralotsia said although its capacity to slaughter cattle per day is 380 cattle, the abattoir is failing dismally to reach its target. He said there are instances where the abattoir does not slaughter any cattle at all per day. He said they have since made a decision for farmers in the region to transport their cattle to Lobatse BMC for slaughter as Francistown was failing to sustain itself.
“The BMC abattoir in Francistown is seriously underperforming and it is proving to be unsustainable and costly. Because of this predicament there is a time when one is forced to reduce the size of the facility or close it. However our wish as government is to perhaps close it on temporary basis and open it when there is business need” he added.
The enraged councilors could not take any of Ralotsia’s explanations. They said government never engages them on issues that are affecting Francistown and instead makes unilateral decisions. They accused government of a covert and deliberate plan to turn the second city into a ghost town.
“First it was the closure of mines by the relevant ministry without our engagement as the city leadership and now it is BMC. There are many other projects which were closed without our engagement by various ministries. We are never consulted by government on pertinent issues relating to Francistown and the government makes unilateral decisions. Enough is enough with this. The government should know that we represent people who need answers from us. We are often left in the dark by government as to decisions that affect Francistown. What will happen to Francistown if BMC is closed,” asked councilor Gaone Majere of Tshwaragano ward who added that the decision is another nail in the coffin for the already dying Francistown economy.
Specially elected councilor Tuelo Zazambi said that perhaps it was high time that government stripped Francistown of its city status because there is nothing to show that it is taken seriously. He said other areas such as Palapye are given first priority in terms of developments and are overtaking Francistown.
“A number of decisions are made unilaterally by Ministers without our involvement. Even when we invite them here they never set foot in our city council. We are often sidelined. Perhaps Francistown should be stripped of its city status and remain a shanty town .Almost all projects that were earmarked for Francistown have been relocated. Our plea is for you to leave BMC to survive as it is one of our only hopes after the closure of mines. Francistown has been sabotaged for long. We refuse to believe our abattoir is not sustainable as the minister says. We should have been consulted to come up with solutions to sustain it,” he said.
Another distraught councilor, Lesego Kwambala of Itekeng Ward said economic issues affecting Francistown are saddening. He asked the minister why they did not make a decision for cattle to be transported from Lobatse and southern region and use the abattoir which has the highest state of the art equipment.
“By closing it you are shutting down the hopes of farmers in the region. We plead with you to at least give it one and a half years, engage us and the farmers to see if we cannot come with better resolutions to revive it. We were not engaged and we are very unhappy about how we are being treated by ministers pertaining to issues affecting our city,” said the youthful councilor.
Peter Ngoma, another specially elected councilor said there seemed to be a deliberate plan to sabotage or take away developments from the second city.
“I do not believe there are no cattle in the region. The Francistown region has the highest number of cattle in the country. I do not think this is a valid reason to shut this operation. Someone somewhere has a personal agenda against developing Francistown. Every development is taken down south,” he said.
However in his response a calm and collected Ralotsia said that he understands the councilors disappointments. He also said that he has the best interest of Francistown at heart but added that there are circumstances where government has to make decisions in the best interest of the country due to pressing challenges.
“We have since engaged the farmers on this issue and councilors are all aware of the problems affecting BMC in Francistown. We never said that we are closing it for now, but we will give it a period of at least three years to see if we cannot all come with resolutions to keep it afloat,” he said.
The Minister had been summoned to explain to the city council on the status of the BMC abattoir in Francistown.