Saturday, October 24, 2020

The miners are back

gold diggers retreated they left behind a
mature town that refused to die. Almost a
century later, new gold and copper/nickel
deposits have been found in the vicinity of a
town fondly known to historians as “the old
lady of Botswana”.

Once again, Botswana’s first and oldest
town – which has played the poor cousin to
Gaborone since independence – is blossoming,
and its residents’ purchasing power is
enhanced.

It is generally accepted that
Francistown’s establishment as a town resulted
from the presence of gold in the area’s
vicinity. Some writers suggest that the metal
had been mined long before the colonial era,
with world workings discovered which date
back as far as 1100 and 1400 A.D. The
African Traveling Net website says early
European explorers discovered the remains
of these prehistoric mines in the mid-19th
century and, in 1880.

The genesis of modern-day Francistown
dates back to 1868, inheriting the name from
a Daniel Francis who was a central figure in
the early gold rushes of 1868-73.

“The early gold rushes of 1868-73 saw
prospectors and miners from Europe and
Australasia begin to stream northwards up
the missionaries’ road, to open up old mines
at Tati (now Francistown) which lay in the
zone between the Ngwato and Ndebele kingdoms,”
writes University of Botswana’s history
professor Neil Parsons in the book A
New History of Southern Africa.

“Long before Gaborone was anything
more than a village, Francistown was
established to serve this mining industry
and was a vigorously developing
centre,” the African Travelling Net
website chronicles the emergence of
Francistown as a vibrant centre of commerce.

However, the mining did not take
off on a large scale because the small
mining companies did not posses the
proper technology to extract the ore.

Apparently, the miners noted that the
gold in eastern Botswana is a complicated
mix of narrow reefs, which made
it very difficult for them to extract anything,
and by the 1940s much of the
small-scale operations had ceased.
Even the larger companies, which continued
to sustain the operations for a
while, soon abandoned the project,
leaving what could have easily turned
into a ghost town.

But Francistown refused to die.
Because of its strategic position, the
town was able to survive as a trading
centre often acting as stop for travelers
to Rhodesia or to the Zambia via the
Okavango swamps.

A century later, the economic
activity that gave birth to the town –
mining – is back, and it’s big. The now
City of Francistown is seeing a reemergence
of large-scale mining and
a booming economy as a result of the
golden opportunities provided by
Mupane Gold Mine, as well as the
copper and nickel deposits at the Tati
Nickel mine.

The Tati Nickel Mining Company
(Pty) Limited is a joint venture
between LionOre, which has an 85
percent stake in the project, and the
Botswana Government, which holds
15 percent. Tati Nickel Company
owns the Phoenix nickel operation
and the Selkirk underground nickel
mine, which has been on care and
maintenance since late 2002.

Tati Nickel has a capacity of 12,500 to
14,500 tonnes of payable nickel per
annum. This represents a 16 percent
increase over design and a 27 percent
improvement on the best achieved
annual production to date. In 2004,
the Phoenix mine produced 11,446
tonnes of payable nickel.

In September 2005, LionOre
announced “Project 5 million” for the
Phoenix Pit at Tati. The project is a
low capital cost plan to increase production
from the current design.

The establishment of the world’s
first Activox refinery by Tati Nickel
Mining Company this year at a cost of
P4 billion provides one of the indicators
of the rise of the “Capital city of
the North” as a major centre of economic
activity.

The Activox refinery is expected
to increase export earning by 2.5 percent,
increase the Gross Domestic
Product by 1 percent and create 3, 500
direct jobs, 500 of them permanent.

Mupane Gold Mine is a venture by
Australian mining company, Gallery
Gold. The company, which is listed on
the Australian Stock Exchange, is no
stranger to Botswana. It opened operations
in Botswana in 1994 with the
purchase of Monarch Gold Mine,
north of Francistown, where it operated
small-scale mining operations.

Mupane’s operation currently produces
just over 100 000 ounce of
gold, and it plans to increase its annual
production to between 250 000 and
350 000 ounce in the year 2007/2008.

With the cumulative investment of
the mines having surpassed the billion
Pula mark, and over 5, 000 employment
opportunities provided, the mining
operations have led to a surge in the
number of people with disposable income
in Francistown.

A sales consultant at the real estate
company Kwena Property Services says all
the prime properties that were put up for
purchase has been snapped up.

“Although we cannot positively attribute
the sudden appetite for property to the
resurgence in mining, there has been discernible
impact,” the property consultant
told FPN.

At Francistown Agribots, a vegetable
produce company, the manager – Gordon
Chidamoyo – has witnessed a steady rise in
demand. This convinces him that there is a
boom in Francistown.

“The mines do not buy anything directly
from us. But obviously when the purchasing
power of individuals increase due
to increased employment opportunities, we
are bound to benefit,” he says.

The economic boom is being felt across
all sectors of the economic strata. Bus owners
have landed lucrative deals to provide
shuttle services for the mines’ employees to
and from the town centre, where most of
them live. The small food vendor has not
been left out. Tin structures erupt everyday
to feed the miners.

Everything seems to point to a city
experiencing high levels of economic
growth – with all its attendant social ills.

Studies carried out around the world
suggest that economic prosperity brings an
inherent moral and value degradation.
While revival of mining is good news in
most respects, the newly found affluence of
residents provides a dilemma on the social
frontier.

A study conducted during Thailand’s
economic boom years in the early 1990s
said an increase in affluence also resulted
in a rise in the number of men who visited
commercial sex workers. It says during the
economic boom, almost 20 percent of Thai
men reported regularly visiting commercial
sex workers. The figure has since
decreased to around 10 percent, as the
boom subsided. A similar trend is said to
have been noted in Zambia’s Copperbelt
province, when the resurgence in mining
boosted commercial sex work.
“The resurgent mining industry in
Zambia’s Copperbelt province has boosted
commercial sex work in the region, which
could help fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS
and other sexually transmitted infections,”
reported the Times of Zambia last year.
Could such a scenario play itself in
Francistown?
University of Botswana’s AIDS
Coordinator, Mosarwa Segwabe, says
although she is not an expert in disease patterns,
inferences made from previous
prevalence studies make it highly likely
that the resurgence in mining around the
Francistown could possibly contribute to
behaviour associated with HIV transmission.
“At one point, Francistown used to
record the highest HIV prevalence rate in
Botswana. Then Selebi-Phikwe led the
HIV prevalence rate for more than two
years. A similarity between the two towns
is that both have mining histories,”
Segwabe notes.

Segwabe indicates that wherever there
is a working environment that attracts a lot
of men, such as mining does, the womenfolk
follow.

“This gives rise to risky behaviour such
a commercial sex work and multiple sex
partners,” she says.

In the fairytale, the Midas touch brought
more sorrow than joy for the king who loved
gold. Could “the old lady of Botswana” find
herself in the same situation due to her newly
found mineral-inspired prosperity? (FPN)

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