Francistown, a city of shattered dreams

Better days: Operations at Tati Nickel's Phoenix Mine during its operational days
Better days: Operations at Tati Nickel's Phoenix Mine during its operational days

FRANCISTOWN: Francistown city mayor Sylvia Muzila’s worries about the collapse of the mining sector and the shooting unemployment rate are well documented.

In particular, the recent abrupt closure of the Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC)’s Phoenix Mine, which was placed under provisional liquidation as part of the BCL Group, came as the final blow.

It’s true that the unexpected closure of the mine, which was the main anchor of the city’s economy, caught many people and businesses off guard including Muzila. The city had bigger dreams of turning things around and even diversifying the economy.

The shedding of about 400 jobs at the Mowana mine in Dukwi last year November, a few kilometres outside Francistown was a telling tale that something was quickly getting wrong with employment trends in the second city.

Shortly after Mowana, Aveng Moolmans closed shop, in the process laying off about 700 workers.  Reason? TNMC had not renewed their contract. The remaining over 700 Tati workers were told to pack and go in October as the mine was placed under provisional liquidation.

Muzila’s worries that the closing of the mines have impacted negatively on the city’s economy are not unfounded as the Francistown City Council (FCC) also had a dream that has been shattered.

 “We had a vision to attract more investors into the city through the mines and that vision was shattered when some of them closed,” Muzila had said in earlier interview. This was another endeavour to create more jobs, she said, but, unfortunately, the reverse happened.

The former district commissioner is worried about the escalating unemployment rate.

“Unemployment has increased since many people were laid off and that does not only worry the leadership of the city, but has also had a huge negative impact on the businesses and individuals who took advantage of the mines.”

The reality is that the closure of the mines has had multiple shocks since many other sectors bore the brunt of the mining collapse. Retail, banking, estate and many other sectors are already affected.

Muzila bemoans the fact that closure of the TNMC is likely to upset the FCC’s Local Economic Development (LED), which is geared to stimulate the city’s economy, which the Mayor said, has been dormant. At the time, she was worried by high unemployment rate, poverty, low industrial activities, low entertainment and recreational activities.

The LED strategy, according to its report reads: “As a centre of service provision for the region, urban centres like Francistown tend to have a disproportionate flow of jobseekers from the outlying villages”. Depending on data collected from the 2011 Population and Housing Census, Statistics Botswana says the overall labour force for the cities and towns was 324,605 or 73.8% of the total population. Overall unemployment for the districts was estimated at 10.6% and showed that more females were unemployed than their male counterparts, at 11.3% for females and 9.8 percent for males.

Statistics Botswana sourced data shows that in cities and towns, unemployment is high in Francistown at the rate of 13.3%, followed by Jwaneng and Lobatse at 12.7% and 12.4% respectively.

Depending on the 2011 Population and Housing Census data, Francistown population stands at about 98,961 with males estimated at about 48,104 and 50,857 females.  Five years down the line, the population has definitely increased as between 2001-2011 it grew at an annual increase of about 1.7 percent annually. By 2026, it is estimated that the population will shoot to over 120,000 people.

Available data show that Francistown has about 40,309 employed people with an estimated figure of jobseekers standing at about 9,246. The estimated labour force stood at about 69,281 with an unemployment rate of about 13.3%. Francistown’s unemployment rate is slightly higher than that of Gaborone, which stands at about 9.2 percent.

Francistown East MP Buti Billy conceded that the unemployment situation in Francistown does not need a rocket scientist especially after the closure of the mines. He described it as akin to a time bomb waiting to explode.

The MP was frustrated that social ills, which were seemingly suppressed by availability of jobs, were now going to proliferate. “I am fearful. This is serious and it’s even going to affect myself as a politician and my party the Botswana Democratic Party in political standings,” he declared this week.

He feared families were likely to break up through divorce and that cases of theft and crime were likely to escalate as people would be battling to survive in this dog-eat-dog situation. “People who rented out their houses to the miners and people who worked in related and supportive industries are vacating due to joblessness and inability to pay rentals,” said Billy, contemplating the magnitude of the situation.

The legislator was particularly worried that the latest development threatened even the ruling party more as people expected a lot from it for employment and other needs.

The Francistown East constituency is set to celebrate its 2014 general elections victory this weekend ,and Billy fretted that the situation on the ground was not conducive, “as those who have lost jobs think we are insensitive and insulting them by partying while they are crying for their lost jobs”.

He acknowledged that as the BDP they were faced with a mammoth task of explaining the explosive situation to the constituents whose numbers have been swelled by the jobless. The situation, he said, is not helped by the fact that the country has been grappling with unemployment even when the mines were running and now the situation is even worse.

Billy is literally at his wits’ end as he struggles to find a solution for his constituents who expect a lot from him despite the challenges he is encountering.

This week in Parliament, Billy asked the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Sadique Kebonang among other questions to explain the situation of TNMC.

“Do you have any plans regarding the former employees of Tati and BCL Mines?” he asked in part.

Kebonang’s response was that plans were there involving the employees of Tati Nickel Mine. He said government through its wisdom has formed a task team  not only to look at TNMC employees, but at all employees affected by the process. He said the process was being led by Vincent Seretse, who is the Mknister of Investment, Trade and Industry .  “They will be re-tooling. Companies are being invited to Selebi-Phikwe. We are moving,  for instance as a way of example, conferences and meetings which we are holding there to keep the mine and or the town active, but we are looking on what is almost akin to a marshal plan to look into all of these things,” Kebonang said. In terms of care and maintenance, Kebonang said that over 400 employees are employed for that purpose.

This week, councillor for Satellite South Godisang Radisigo told the FCC that he was facing pressure from the electorates who are demanding answers on the matters surrounding the closure of the mine. Radisigo’s ward housed some of the ex-miners and the councillor is having sleepless nights. “I cannot even walk the streets because many people want answers that I do not have,” declared the frustrated civic leader.

Radisigo was among equally frustrated civic leaders who called for an indefinite adjournment of the full council meeting early this week.

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