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Locals lead Phikwe economic recovery

KOKETSO KGOBOGE
Talana Farms is on the road to recovery
Even as government’s focus has been to court foreign investors, the closure of BCL Mine could bring new breed of local investors to Selebi-Phikwe. Mmegi correspondent, KOKETSO KGOBOGE made the observation at a recent media tour to the ex-mining town

SELEBI-PHIKWE: Batswana investors have taken centre stage in the drive to turn around Selebi-Phikwe’s economy following the infamous liquidation of the BCL Mine left the town in dire straits.

Following the closure of the over 60-year-old copper and nickel mine that was the heartbeat of Phikwe, economic activities around the town slumped.

Former mineworkers and their families vacated the ghost town for greener pastures. Business people, who were mostly those that served the mine, also vacated the town.

Activities that were synonymous with the mining town also diminished. Therefore, the economy of Selebi-Phikwe plunged to its knees.

In the years prior to the mine’s closure, the Selebi-Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) now SPEDU Company, worked behind the scenes with a mandate to diversify the economy of the town and the entire region from a total reliance on BCL Mine.

SPEDU and the government drew up attractive business incentives for both local and international investors to the region.

In 2017 Bright Star Aviation, an aircraft company from the US cast a glimmer of hope when it tabled interest in bringing an aviation school to Selebi-Phikwe.

The local community received the news that came a few months after the liquidation of the mine with great fanfare and optimism for new jobs. It also heralded a recovery from the closure of the mine.

Much assurance came into the picture when the company penned a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SPEDU, Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana, Selebi-Phikwe Town Council, Ngwato Land Board and the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre.

But the company later dragged feet and SPEDU pulled the plug on the MoU. Selebi-Phikwe residents’ ray of hope faded.

According to SPEDU chief executive officer, Mokubung Mokubung, there was uncertain suspension and delay from the investor’s end that did not sit well with them (SPEDU) hence they called off the deal.

With fingers burnt, SPEDU is taking heart from local investors who have gotten the ball rolling in the fight to lift the Phikwe economy. Even as SPEDU works with foreign investors, Batswana are not resting on their laurels. They are doing it for themselves.

Recently, Mokubung revealed they are involved with 54 companies that are at different stages of development, with 22 at advanced stages. Local investors account for 15 of the 22 companies.

Three are government-owned projects while four are foreign-owned companies.

In total, the companies are expected to invest over P2 billion in their own investment. About P78 million will be financed through Citzen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA).

During a recent tour by journalists, local investors who have settled in the region, spoke with one positive voice about the potential of setting up in the area.

They highlighted a few hiccups though, but are hopeful that through continuos engagement with SPEDU and other stakeholders, the bottlenecks would be dealt with.

In another development, Q’s Building Company director, Segaetsho Gaerekwe recently migrated his business from Gaborone to Selebi-Phikwe.

His company, known as Fiberman, specialises in fibre products such as water tanks, baths, swimming pools and boats amongst others. Fiberman

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supplies companies such as Builders World, Jamal Trading, A1 and individuals.

“We are yet to secure a space large enough for production. For now, we work from a single industrial shell at Selebi-Phikwe Industrial that also serves as our storeroom.

“Currently we employ a technical team of 10 people, but we expect to engage over 100 people permanently once we expand,” Gaerekwe said.

The company is unworried about lack of business in the ex-mining town as it still receives orders from its regular clients around the country.

Gaerekwe said their eyes are set on the Southern African regional market.  Selebi-Phikwe was the best location for accessing raw materials from South Africa, he said.

“We need a minimum of one hectare land for full production. We are getting assistance from SPEDU and we are optimistic. We have set up here to expand the market and to contribute to the growth of the town without the mine,” he said.

Meanwhile, Peter Hughes through his company Alligiant (Pty) Ltd, has invested P1.8 million to set up a water purification plant in Selebi-Phikwe Industrial.

His company was fully funded by the CEDA. Alligiant started in 2017 with four employees operating a semi-automated plant with a capacity of 7,200 bottles of water a day. Today, it employs 17 people who are working two eight -hour shifts.

 

“We received a boost when the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry banned the supply of certain categories of mineral water.

“Our Fresh2Go Phikwe Pure water is in shelves in Phikwe, Palapye, Francistown and Maun.

“We are getting recognition and activities are coming by, so we remain positive,” Hughes said.

About 100 kilometres from Bobonong at Talana Farms, the wheels of an over P60 million agro business investment by Kwenantle farmers are in motion.

Kwenantle is a four-year old business partnership between a Motswana woman Lembi Mmereki and two South African nationals.

The farm inherited 10 employees in 2016 after a former investor was liquidated. It has since grown to become a reliable source of employment for Bobirwa residents with over 190 people engaged on a permanent and temporary basis.

SPEDU facilitated the farm’s 15-year lease. Since Kwenantle took off in 2016, farmers have produced 686 tonnes of sugar beans from 230 hectares and 2,150 tonnes of maize from 150 hectares.

From the 421 hectares of maize planted at the beginning of August 2018, 75 tonnes of yellow maize and 2,500 tonnes of white maize have been harvested.

Currently, 300 hectares of land have been ploughed with maize and beans and 1.8 hectares of tomatoes under the shade nets. The farm supplies Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board, Food Botswana and local retailers.

“Our biggest challenge is the huge electricity tariffs due the high consumption,” Mmereki said.

“Although things are hard, we count on the discussion between SPEDU, the Ministry of Agriculture, Botswana Power Corporation and other stakeholders.

“It is the dialogue that keeps us going and we are very hopeful that before the end of the year a resolution would be reached regarding electricity subsidies.”



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