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Against the odds, Phikwe refuses to die

ONALENNA KELEBEILE
Phikwe mall PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
SELEBI-PHIKWE: Despite the fact that the town is now a shadow of its former self, a windswept hollow on the brink of ghost-status, Selebi Phikwe is holding to the few strands of hope remaining within reach.

The October 2016 closure of its economic mainstay, BCL Mine, left Selebi-Phikwe resembling a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, a town emptied by a disaster, shops boarded up, homes deserted, the few remaining survivors walking about in stunned disbelief. For town mayor, Molosiwa Molosiwa, however, hope springs eternal in Selebi-Phikwe.  According to him, by the end of the third quarter, 1,239 new jobs had been created in the town through the attraction of investors across different sectors. This is against a target of 1,770 jobs.

SPEDU, the regional agency spearheading Phikwe’s investment and survival drive, is engaged with about 50 companies, some of them citizen-owned, in areas such as information technology, manufacturing, agriculture and construction. Collectively, the companies are expected to invest about P1.8 billion in the region.

“The jobs will continue to increase with the ongoing implementation of the SPEDU incentives that were gazetted in February this year,” Molosiwa says.

The incentives, giving heavy tax discounts to qualifying investors in specified sectors, have thus far attracted seven applicants, according to Investment, Trade and Industry minister, Bogolo Kenewendo.

Government has also allocated Selebi-Phikwe P100 million to develop her Special Economic Zone, an area of developed infrastructure and state of the art technology designed to attract world-class domestic and foreign investors.

The latest developments are supported by the improvement of relations between SPEDU, the Selebi-Phikwe Town Council and the business community. The urgent push to diversify the town’s economy in previous years has led to disconnected and overlapping efforts, with apparent discord amongst the various players.

Indicative of the cordial relations, earlier this year, SPEDU and the town council signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing the agency to use pieces of land in the town for state of the art projects such as an envisaged golf course.

SPEDU and the town council have also identified land banks within the town planning area covering 1,300 hectares to be used for urban agriculture. The design works for the land are underway and the two are working closely with the Ministry of Lands, Water and Sanitation Management to service the land.  Scoping of works is underway while servicing is expected to start during the first quarter of the 2019-2020 financial year.

Various agricultural projects, some already operational, are slowly pushing Phikwe closer to its dream of transforming into an agricultural hub. These projects include Talana Farms named Kwenantle Farmers, the upcoming Motloutse River Basin horticultural project as well as the Thune and Lotsane irrigation projects.

“If

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all goes according to plan the SPEDU region will turn into an agricultural hub in future and this will bring returns to the region and the country by ensuring food security,” says Agriculture deputy permanent secretary, Rose Sennanyana.

As hopeful as the situation may seem in Selebi- Phikwe, the residents of the town have become accustomed to disappointment. Many still remember the unsuccessful campaign to draw the second university, BIUST, to Selebi-Phikwe to diversify its economy, many moons ago. Others recall how prior to BCL Mine’s closure, senior government officials assured that the economic mainstay would continue to be funded and kept running.

And after the closure, pledges of massive investment were made and gone unfulfilled.  In its desperate bid to reach out to the strands of hope, Phikwe has learnt that some deals are really too good to be true. As a drowning man cares little about the type of stick that pokes through the surface to rescue him, Phikwe has opened its heart to hope and had it broken in some cases. Its residents are, however, banking on something more eternal for its future – the youth. Selebi-Phikwe has risen above water to remain the cream when it comes to education as primary schools here have performed extremely well and beyond everyone’s expectations.

In the recently released Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), all the schools in Selebi-Phikwe scored above the national target of 76% as well as the regional target of 80%.

Leading the pack was Lapologang Primary School that scored 97% with the least in the group scoring 84.3%. The outstanding results come at a time when nobody expected them to do so well owing to the difficult economic and social conditions that families are being subjected to in Phikwe.

In the PSLE, Selebi-Phikwe has pulled a surprise and retained its status as the best region in education.

The town’s mayor is encouraged.

“Given our situation nobody expected the town to perform so well. As we have been labelled a ghost town in the past, let us now invest in education and turn this town into an education hub,” he says.

In years to come, these young brains will have matured to help the town back to its feet.  However, it is today policymakers, business people and residents who have the immediate task of keeping the town going, for the young brains to find something when they grow up.



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