FRANCISTOWN: The month of October will go down in the history books as the worst month for BCL mine employees and Selebi-Phikwe residents generally this year as the BCL chimney ‘refuses to fall.’
The excitement associated with BCL mine employees’ paydays, which come early, and popularly dubbed ‘chomela e ole’ has become part of the copper/nickel mining town of Selebi-Phikwe’s landscape.
Morale is generally low at BCL as people had to adjust their month end plans.
Miners are also generally known for their free spending habits to the extent that town dwellers have become familiar with the mine pay dates and they always know when to hook up with them (miners) especially at the drinking joints.
The pay date postponement, which has become common across a number of parastatals and private sector organisations probably, depicts the economic troubles besieging the country.
It is probably this harsh reality, which has since forced the government of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to announce at its special congress recently that it has come up with the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP).
The government recently announced a plan to draw about US $8.5 billion from its foreign reserves to boost the sluggish economy. The struggling BCL mine is expected to be a beneficiary of the ESP.
As the main anchor of the Selebi-Phikwe town economy, town dwellers have literally become familiar with the activities of one of the country’s oldest copper/nickel mines.
Information of the postponed pay dates for BCL employees has become common knowledge and a spoiler in Selebi-Phikwe.
The mine’s workforce of about 4,200 workers will all be paid on October 30, something that is very uncommon and unheard of.
It is a dull moment in the town as BCL employees come to terms with their postponed pay dates. Workers taking their off-duty breaks this weekend are literally fuming that they are destined to spend a payless weekend.
Early pay dates for the miners usually commences from as early as 19th of the month as there are various categories of workers at the mine with different pay dates.
To those in the know, it is never difficult to notice that chomela e ole as the miners go about their shopping sprees in town.
The buzzword today in Selebi-Phikwe is that chomela e gana gowa or the chimney/smelter is refusing to fall as they ponder into the postponed pay date.
BCL employees this week all received letters conveying the bad news of postponed pay dates.
“Please be informed that BCL is currently experiencing low cash flow situation and as a result a decision to move October pay dates has been taken.
The pay dates starting on 22-28 October 2015 have been moved provisionally to October 30,” reads one of the letters written to mine employees and authoured by Motsile Sibanda, divisional manager organisational capability.The mine management’s position is that the low cash flow position is due to the delayed completion of a smelter rebuild project.
Sibanda further said that the rebuild completion delay means that the company has not been able to sell matte thus necessitating the need to seek external funding to support its operations.
“The situation has been compounded by below budget ore production, resource wastage and the worldwide decline of commodity prices,” further reads the Sibanda authored letter.
Whilst the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) was shocked at this development, they are hamstrung to come up with a position, as they are yet to consult the stakeholders.
BMWU national executive committee publicity chairman, David Busang, conceded that they have received letters from the mine management postponing the salary pay dates.
“Yes, there are individual letters circulated to individual BCL mine employees.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any position yet as we are meeting members of BMWU as preparations for meeting the BCL mine management later this week,” explained Busang in an interview yesterday.
It is not the individual miners that will mainly suffer as a result of the delayed pay dates, the business community dealing with BCL employees are only holding their breath that the miners are paid so that they can also receive their dues from them.
At the BCL mine, the mine’s general manager Dan Mahupela and his men are only hoping that the prolonged shutdown does not take longer than necessary as it has already gobbled a lot from the mine’s coffers.Last July, the BCL mine engaged in a hefty P700 million shutdown which is yet to commission.
The shutdown was geared at improvements to bolster the smelter with the capability to treat nickel concentrates arising from both the future BCL mineral exploration tenement and acquisitive tolling opportunities pursued through the Polaris II strategy.
Some BCL employees were this week doubtful that they would be paid citing the serious cash flow problem alluded to by the mine management.