The new Blue Train remains in the news but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Why is BR failing to push the positives by ensuring that we are hearing about their experiences from grateful, impressed passengers with an emphasis on all the usual marketing tags of course - awesome, special, remarkable.
One lady from whom we heard, however, said that there was no warning to passengers when the train was about to reach Mahalapye, Serule and so on. In the middle of a pitch-dark night, and with everyone asleep, that could be tricky. In the good old days – i.e. then – the guard/conductor on the mail train used to warn individual passengers that their destination was approaching and that they should prepare to leave. Yes, he knew from his records where each one had paid to go. And also on the old Blue Train, passengers were warned that they would be reaching Palapye in another five minutes. With the new Blue Train it is apparently different. There is no warning about imminent stops. Passengers are expected to know when they should wake up – they are all adults, after all – and, as a result, perhaps get off at the wrong place. But the Blue Train’s current schedule worries me. A quick look at the figures recently released by Statistics Botswana suggests that with a decreasing population there may be little reason for including Lobatse in BR’s passenger train schedule. Fortunately for Lobatse, for the moment, BR’s inability to undertake really comprehensive market research has given it a precarious lifeline. If BR had made a genuine attempt to identify its market, it might have omitted Lobatse
from its plans. But let’s take a look at those new figures. Lobatse, in 2011, had a population of 29,007. In 2016, this figure is projected to drop to 28,235, in 2021 to decrease further to 26,483 and in 2026 to 24,085. These are spectacular figures. In other words, if BR had the slightest clue as to what it is doing it would have dumped Lobatse having concluded that only few people are likely to travel by train either from there or to there. Of course, the possibility, indeed likelihood that BR will eventually look at its figures and conclude that as far as it is concerned, Lobatse is as much a relic of railway history as say, those long ago stops, Mosupabatho or Foley. But, as a Lobatse fan, I am hopeful that the situation is not as bad as it seems. But then, it is not at all clear how anything today interlocks with anything else. There have been those plans to make Lobatse a free port, to help it to capitalise from the Kgalagadi highway and its links with Mahikeng and to get the BMC back on its feet. And it is of course the intended beneficiary of the two-multi million pula projects – milk and leather. Information about the former, however, appears to be virtually non-existent whilst the continuing delay with the latter does tend to induce skepticism. How many times now have we been told about those 15 trainees currently in Florida? Clearly Statistics Botswana has come to its own conclusions about these formulas for turning Lobatse around, and is unimpressed. All those involved need to take serious note. But if the newly released figures represent a dismaying scenario for Lobatse, they will also provide zero reassurance for people in Phikwe where Statistics have been unimpressed by the emergence in new guise of yet another regional development agency, SPEDU, of steel or indeed the new bridge at Platjan.,
Thus it is projected that Phikwe’s population, which was 49,411 in 2011, has fallen to 48,576 today and will drop further to 42,696 in 2026. These are disconcerting figures, firstly for Lobatse, being the HQ of the Meat Commission and secondly of Phikwe with its major copper/nickel mine. What can now be done which is not already being done to sustain those two important towns? If there is nothing as disturbing about the other figures that have been provided, there should be much interest as to what is going on. As might be expected, the populations of the other mining towns, Sowa, Jwaneng, and Orapa are projected to remain constant whilst Francistown appears to be going nowhere. Taken together with Phikwe’s zero growth, this should be prompting major concern.
As might be expected of the regional/district figures, the population of Kgalagadi is projected to increase very slowly and Ghanzi only a little faster – I wonder why it is increasing at all? The population of the North East will grow slowly whilst the North West, which I would have assumed would be on the margins, shows a significant increase. Again, I wonder why? All of which leaves Gaborone, water or no water, to push itself above the 300,000 mark by 2026. These are fascinating, important figures which need to be very carefully digested.