Mmegi Online :: Rot at Botash
Last Updated
Friday 21 September 2018, 15:09 pm.
Rot at Botash

FRANCISTOWN: At least former Botswana Ash managing director Montwedi Mphathi and his senior executives long saw dark corporate clouds ominously gathering over the salt and soda ash plant at the Sowa Town.
By Ryder Gabathuse Fri 10 Nov 2017, 14:26 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Rot at Botash

Besides the boardroom bitter brawls that ultimately floored Mphathi, there has been a simmering industrial relations battle launched by some staff members who incessantly accused Mphathi’s administration of corruption, nepotism and sheer disregard of ethics. At least senior management has been aware of these developments, including Mphathi.

There is a general fear in the mine that more heads are likely to roll as the Botash board of directors cracks the whip on the ‘troublemakers’.

Botash staff have long complained, using the company’s seemingly effective anonymous line, which is managed by the ethics committee, to raise a wide range of issues that border chiefly on unethical conduct. Mphathi and his senior management are accused of flagrantly disregarding the company’s stringent corporate behaviour. Concerns have been that it was becoming a ‘norm’ in some sections of the company to put ethics on holiday.

Apparently, Botash senior management have been privy to the rising tension at the mine with the reputation of the salt and soda ash mine already having taken a knock.

Mphathi’s forced exit was like a timed bomb set to explode anytime. The flamboyant chief executive officer’s exit may have come too soon as he joined Botash in 2011 from the BCL Mine, but from ‘internal reports circulating at the Sua Pan salt and soda ash plant, the Botash board of directors could not stomach information in their hands and what has now become a fight for the control of the Botash plant.

Mphathi was at the helm of an estimated P1.3 billion worth of operations, whose major shareholders are the Botswana government and neighbouring South Africa-based Chlor-Alkali Holdings. But with reports of corruption, nepotism, favouritism and unethical conduct reportedly rampant at the mine, Mphathi was always going to be the fall guy.

Below Mmegi traces some of the issues that had already reached the board of Botash and may have had an influence in the recent change of guard, which saw one of the country’s highflying CEOs being unceremoniously shown the door.

“A dark cloud has befallen Botash as a fatality was recorded recently where a man lost his life at the mine. A certain man Tshepo Sedimo, who was hired under mysterious circumstances, supervises the area of operation. Mphathi deliberately hired this man who is a Form 5 school leaver to head one of the most critical departments in the company,” read one of the whistleblower’s report in partafter it was leaked to the media. Four months ago, Sedimo reportedly came hand-held by Mphathi to Botash to land a lucrative job in the mine, He now heads a department where he oversees five university graduates.  

“Sedimo is inexperienced and lacks business acumen considering the line of business he was coming from, where he was running a bottle store and a bar including a Chibuku depot. An advert that was run in the papers seeking for a minimum requirement of a business degree, and amazingly before the advert closed, this official was seated comfortably in the office.” Reports reaching Mmegi show that Sedimo, whose credentials are challenged, comes from the same village together with Mphathi and he reported to office way before the advert’s closing date.

Sedimo reportedly came shortly after the unceremonious departure of a fully qualified and experienced marketing manager, Wame Tshaila who was fired under the pretext that she was underperforming.  Surprisingly, Mphathi has stood to defend Sedimo’s poor performance, his lack of credentials and his poor work ethic. The question is; is it possible that Sedimo’s hiring was motivated by personal gain as opposed to business interests? To demonstrate their concerns, in the life cycle of the Botash mine, in some instance, it was only four months after an allegedly incompetent Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) manager had assumed office and already there was a fatality under his area of supervision.

“This is a manager who was confirmed in


less than a month despite his poor business performance. Maybe a competent manager would have taken the necessary steps to prevent the accident?“ suggests the whistleblower. To the miners, this is a clear-cut case of corruption, favouritism and unethical conduct at Botash practiced by some top executives of the mine. It is also reported that even some top mine officials had a tendency of recruiting their friends especially foreigners when there are locals who could do such jobs.

There is a concern that miners are simply hired and fired on personal emotions at the Botash mine, which has created job insecurities. Worrying reports show that in less than five months, Botash has unceremoniously fired more than six managers all fired to create room for the blue-eyed boys and girls of the mine’s head honchos. The painful thing at Botash is that about P8 million has gone missing from the Botash coffers under Mphathi’s management and blame is being shifted to very junior staff members.

“The only employee who was competent enough to trace these monies as he was responsible for the financial management computerised system was fired from work. Could this have been a cover up to never find a trace for the missing funds?” the whistleblower’s report wonders.

On the other hand, 8,000 tons of soda ash has disappeared from the mine’s stock and this translates to P20 million of the missing stock which management cannot reportedly account for. One of the victims of the polluted Botash industrial relations is the former mine’s PRO Kefilwe Batsalelwang-Kebafetotse who was shown the door after an exchange with the mine’s blue-eyed girl in a matter that was not related to her job.

“Corruption is rife and this is just a tip of the iceberg and employees live in constant fear of victimisation and job losses by the vindictive top management,” further bemoaned the whistleblower.

Quizzed about industrial relations issues circulating at Botash, South Africa based Botash board chairman, Ian Forbes chose not to confirm or deny issues at the mine including what forced the board to fire Mphathi. “Let me just clarify something to you. We run a business, which employs a lot of people from different backgrounds. Like any business, we deal with a lot of people and all the workplace issues as you have raised are basically internal and not for public consumption,” Forbes maintained his stance.

Botash human resources manager, Sabelo Matikiti who is also equally blamed in the whistleblower’s letter holds a strong position that standards at Botash mine have not reached their lowest ebb as suggested by the whistleblower. “I think I once saw something like that in the social media,” he said referring to a plethora of well-articulated unethical conduct raised against the mine and its senior management.

He however, indicated that the acting managing director Kangangwani Phatshwane is the one who is empowered to talk to the media on issues raised against Botash. For his part, Phatshwane indicated that allegations leveled against Botash on corruption, nepotism and unethical conduct should be treated properly. “What it means is that these allegations basically are traceable to the events of mid last year and these issues were discussed by the board of directors.”

He explained that Botash has an anonymous line, which allows text, audio and video reports, and there are people who are responsible for that and, “I am not one of them”. His take was that, part of the reasons why companies have ethics lines are to guard against unethical behaviour and because it is anonymous.

“To say unethical behaviour is prevalent at Botash, unfortunately I am not part of the ethics committee although I sit in the board of directors. In the meetings that I attended, I never came across such,” said Phatshwane before emphasising on the company policy of not discussing internal issues with external parties.

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