The announcement that Debswana Orapa and Letlhakane Mines General Manager, Seb Sebetlela, will be leaving Debswana at the end of the year to join Tati Nickel has been met with mixed reactions from the employees and labour activists in the country.
Debswana Public and Corporate Affairs Manager, Esther Kanaimba, this week confirmed that Sebetlela will indeed be leaving at the end of the year, adding that Managing Director, Blackie Marole, has already communicated the new developments to members of staff.
Indications are that he will leave office on December 13 and assume his new post at Tati Nickel beginning 2009.
“Tati Nickel Mining Company is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr Sebetela Oletile Sebetlela as general manager with effect from January 1, 2009,” a statement signed by Rob Wagner, Operations Director of Tati Nickel, said. “On behalf of the Tati Nickel Board of directors and the Tati Nickel team, we welcome Mr Sebetlela to the Tati Nickel family.”
The Sunday Standard can reveal that many employees at Debswana were taken aback by Sebetlela’s surprise move, with those close to him saying that it is very uncharacteristic of him.
The OLM General Manager has always preached loyalty and dedication to Debswana. Even when Debswana was faced with the challenge of a mass exodus of employees to other mining houses, especially and ironically, Tati Nickel, Sebetlela remained adamant that Debswana is the best corporation that any professional in the mining industry can work at.
Sources from within Debswana have revealed that Sebetlela’s exit is made even more surprising by the fact that he relished the challenges posed by imminent developments at the mine, especially the North Star.
He is regarded as one of Debswana’s best managers and has achieved major milestones in OLM’s corporate social responsibility policy and improving operations to lower production costs as well as many other projects geared at water conservation and innovation.
An insider at OLM said last week that Sebetlela was considered a superman at Debswana who could never turn down a challenge.
“It is surprising that he would leave bigger and more challenging responsibilities at Debswana to manage a smaller operation at Tati Nickel,” he said.
Reports also indicate that even when top managers like Dan Mahupela were leaving Debswana, Sebetlela was adamant that they should stick around to finish off the 2005-2010 North Star strategy.
But eventually the Tati Nickel mine offer proved to be too lucrative to ignore and Sebetlela decided to move on to seek new challenges and opportunities for growth.
But if recent and past indications are anything to go by, Sebetlela will not be short of challenges at Tati Nickel. He will inherit a company that is beleaguered by a lot of problems, especially with regards to the plummeting base metal prices.
Reports reaching The Sunday Standard indicate that Tati Nickel management has been working around the clock to find the most cost effective way of mining ore with a view to reducing production costs in the face of plummeting revenue caused by low prices and reduced demand.
It has also emerged that Tati Nickel is also considering avenues of 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 by around 200 people and a lot of thought is being put into retrenching some, beginning next year. 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, has cast a dark cloud over Tati Nickel’s future prospects, especially with regards to its extended lifespan. It has now become apparent that there is no hope for BMR and employees will soon be retrenched with only a few being retained.
Over time, the company has been inundated with never ending squabbles between management and staff, with accusations of corruption, nepotism and unfair management practices flying thick and fast.
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.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard on Friday, Kealeboga Keakantse, of the Botswana Mine Workers Union, said that Sebetlela’s appointment is a welcome development, especially as Tati Nickel has always been trailing behind other mining houses in localizing top management positions.
However, some industry commentators have decided to adopt a wait and see attitude. Their contention is that serious scrutiny has to be put into exactly what powers citizen managers enjoy at Tati Nickel. They argue that Tati Nickel has in the past employed stop local mining executives, some of them even from the civil service, but all of them have failed to live up to expectations as they just towed the line and failed to question the status quo.
“We do not want to celebrate just yet as we are waiting to see how much clout Sebetlela will hold at Tati Nickel,” they said.
Labour activists have also cast aspersions on the employees’ expectations that Sebetlela will improve their working conditions and scrub off the alleged corruption and favouritism at the mine, saying that Sebetlela has a blemish in his record as he was right in the thick of things when Debswana dismissed the famous 461 employees in 2004.