Following a spate of public criticism leveled at Tati Nickel, the Francistown-based miner is hitting back.
Tati Nickel Corporate Communications and Public Relations Manager Thuso Dikgaka has come out forcefully in defence of the company’s recruitment practices as well as the company’s record on citizen empowerment and localization.
Dikgaka’s response comes after Francistown’s business community raised a series of complaints that the company had closed its doors to them and seemed to be going against government’s policy on citizen economic empowerment.
The attacks against Tati Nickel Mine were continued and reached fever height at a recent breakfast meeting organized by the National Development Bank. At the meeting, members of the Francistown business community, taking a cue from Members of Parliament, Tshelang Masisi and Khumo Maoto accused the mining company of not empowering the city’s business community.
First to throw a jab was NDB’s Business Development Manager, Witness Gumbalume, who called for a synergy between the business community and the mining companies in Francistown. He urged the two to work together to diversify the city’s economic capacity, lest Francistowners find themselves in the lurch once the mine closes down.
The call bolstered businessman Moss Sesupeng, who boldly stood up and declared that it seemed one had to be a foreigner to be able to get any form of business from Tati Nickel Mine. Sesupeng told the gathering that he had been trying for years to get a meeting with the Tati Nickel management to try and establish a business relationship, but to no avail.
” After six months of incessant pleas I was finally given an interview, but I am sad to say that the hostile attitude that I was given resulted with me coming out of the meeting with nothing,” he said.
Speaker after speaker came out and declared their disgust with the unfair treatment and contempt with which Tati Nickel treats the local business community.
”We always see foreign trucks carrying big machines to the mine but we have never heard of any meaningful contribution into the mine operations by any local business,” one businessman charged bitterly.
Responding to these allegations Dikgaka said that the mine does a lot of business with local companies naming Just Bread, which provides bread, Slums Transport and AT&T Monnakgotla, which owns a bus fleet.
Sunday Standard has reliable information that ever since it was opened, the information technology operations of the mine have been awarded to only one foreign owned company.
The extent of the transparency of the tendering system is not clear.
This has led to local IT companies complaining that there has to be a measure of fairness and openness at Tati Nickel.
Commenting on the issue, Member of Parliament for Francistown South, Khumo Maoto, said that in the last parliamentary sitting, they failed in their efforts to try and put a value to the involvement of the local businesses in the operations like Debswana.
Maoto said the likelihood of government establishing what meaningful contribution local business community extract from foreign dominated companies would be even more difficult if entities like Debswana, where government has a considerable shareholding, cannot be held to account on their empowerment initiatives.
MP Maoto said following a series of complaints by Francistown-based companies against Tati Nickel, he and his colleague Masisi passed the complaints to Minister of Minerals, Charles Tibone, to act.
Unfortunately the Minister is still to act, he said.
Francistown West MP Tshelang Masisi swore allegiance to the Francistown community, pleading with them to have patience and understand that, as back benchers, their impact is very limited in some quarters.
He told the gathering that they were aware of the lack of citizen empowerment and the unfair recruitment procedures at the mine.
He urged them to continue piling pressure on the mines and the relevant authorities until the issues are addressed.
Since it was officially opened in 1993, Tati Nickel Mine has had to grapple with accusations of corruption and racism.
On a recent visit to Francistown, Minister of Labour and Home affairs, Moeng Pheto, and later his assistant, Oliphant Mfa, were also briefed about the allegations.
District Commissioner Sylvia Muzila has on numerous occasions received petitions from unemployed citizen mining graduates who alleged that they are sidelined during recruitment while less qualified expatriates, especially Zimbabweans, are always favoured
A recent report on a survey done by the Department of Mines also revealed that Tati Nickel employs more foreigners than any other mine in Botswana.
Dikgaka rubbished these allegations saying that his company has a robust recruitment policy that cannot be breached. He also said that they have received the same complaints in kgotla meetings with Matsiloje and Matshelegabedi residents and they urged them to come up with proof of the alleged corruption.
”Our company has a suite of unambiguous, fair and unbiased procedures which guide our operations including localization, recruitment, purchasing, procurement and many others,” he said.
Asked if allegations that people are employed at the mine without resident permits are true, Dikgaka said that the Department of Labour regularly does spot checks on the mine and has so far not detected any such breaches.
Dikgaka challenged the honorable MPs to visit the mine at a mutually suitable time so that they can obtain factual information to equip them with knowledge to address issues raised by their electorate.
Botswana Mining Workers Union President, Chimbidzani Chimidza, did not mince his words when he shot salvos at the government for “selling Botswana to international mining conglomerates.”
“Botswana allows mining companies to hire out mining brokers as their employment agents,” he said, adding that what they do not realize is that these brokers are actually sister companies to the operating mine, such that there is a monopolistic environment in which Batswana are the sacrificial lambs.
Chimidza also said that the use of mining brokers is aimed at killing mining unions because the brokers employ expatriates who are not allowed to join unions.
Such practices kill mining workers’ unions, he said.