The Ministry of Trade and Industry has pledged to stand shoulder-to shoulder with the Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) in its quest to look for the region’s┬álong term economic prosperity┬áoutside copper/nickel mining.
“I think (SPEDU’s plan) has to be informed by the past┬áand then nicely┬ápackage what they have. They have to come to us as the ministry of trade and government ÔÇö sell their case ÔÇö ensuring that it becomes top, top priority in everybody’s agenda,” Minister of Trade and Industry, Dorcas Makgato-Malesu, said.
The move comes at a time when Botswana is struggling to diversify its economy, which is heavily reliant on the mineral sector, especially the diamond.
Government has in the past poured millions of pula into Selebi Phikwe with the aim of┬ámaking it a manufacturing hub that was sugar coated with the intent of being┬á a free tax zone.
However, the government objectives were clouded by a number of┬áissues, such as its lack of┬áfocus, as it┬átried to buy investors through National Development Bank (NDB) and Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) to come into the region.
The policies that promoted job creation at the expense of the competitiveness of the region and viability of enterprises lacked vetting system and resulted in some investors looting the two financial institutions.
SPEDU, which came into being some two years ago following the European Union┬á(EU) sponsored research that is being backed by┬ácorporate entities led by BCL mine, is trying to find some sought of economic retirement plan of Selebi Phikwe and its surrounding areas after the life of the mine.
The areas covered by SPEDU in its plan include Bobirwa, Mmadinare, Selebi Phikwe and Tswapong North which the research said if nothing is being done to save the situation close to 80,000 jobs in the areas will be affected by the closure of the mine.
The result of such a move will definitely lead to the worsening of the poverty levels, possible social unrest, among others.
Malesu said as part of the plan to try to help the region to fulfill its diversification ambitions, her ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture do have plans to establish horticultural incubator in Selebi Phikwe from 2013 running through to 2015 financial years.
The move is expected to cost P 48.3 million and be able to accommodate 60 budding entrepreneurs with a view of creating close to 120 jobs.
This is also aimed at diversification within the agricultural sector as the region is prone to animal diseases such as foot and mouth that has affected many farmers in the region.
“Selebi Phikwe has been found to be ideal for developing a horticultural cluster due to its vibrancy, availability of land and access to water from the BCL mine.┬áI should, however, indicate that this project would have been implemented much earlier had plans to use treated waste water from the BCL mine taken off,” she said.
“With respect to the textile industry, I am mindful of the challenges faced by the textile industry in Botswana, some of which were due to the global economic crisis.┬á To this extent, some companies have collapsed and closed down especially in Selebi Phikwe,” she added.
Selebi Phikwe region is in need of massive capital injection as the BCL mine is struggling to ascertain the life-span of the copper/ nickel mine some certainty.
If nothing is done, the area is likely to turn into a ghost town that will have more severe results to the inhabitants of the region.
So far, the region, which has the potential of being the ‘bread basket” of the country, needs commitment and the will of all stakeholders to save it from collapse.
If the diversification succeeds, that will act as a model for other mining towns in the country and the entire African region. But that needs billions of pulas to be realised.
Phikwe came about in 1974 following the discovery of┬ácopper/ nickelÔÇömaking it the oldest mining town in the country. Prior to the discovery and the mining of minerals the area was just a swathe of ploughing fields and cattle posts.