The 4,600 former BCL mine workers face despair, but Kelesitse Tshikare’s story is a ray of hope that life goes on after retrenchment. The 63-year-old BCL retiree suffered the axe back in 1981 but bounced back. He talks to Staff Writer, ZOLANI KRAAI
Every new day brings deepening uncertainty among BCL mine’s 4,600 former workers. From their collective strength at the beginning of the crisis last month, the workers have broken up into individuals, returning one by one to their home villages, carrying meagre severance salaries.
It is a journey and a state of being Tshikare knows only too well. The 63-year-old is a 26-year veteran of BCL mine, having retired in 2014. It is a tale of triumph against continual hardship.
After finishing primary school in 1971, Tshikare’s parents could not afford to send him to secondary school and he would later correspond his Form 3 through the legendary Rapid Results College.
In 1972, at the tender age of 19, Tshikare first arrived in Phikwe visiting, but then settled in the town in August 1975 in search of employment. In those years, the budding town was a magnet for jobseekers and opportunities. Between 1975 and 1976, Tshikare worked temporarily at Tebogo Primary School, and at the end of 1976 he left Phikwe, recruited by the Serowe Brigades Development Trust stationed in Serowe.
He would later be transferred back to Selebi-Phikwe in 1978 under the marketing department. However, not long after that, the brigade closed most of units and retrenched many of its employees. The Maunatlala native found himself in Phikwe jobless and stranded.
“That was the first turning point of my life,” he says.
“I became one of the first people to be retrenched in Selebi-Phikwe.
“I know how it feels to be retrenched or to lose a job. I asked myself questions about how I was going to survive. I wondered whether I should just fold my arms. On top of that, I was under pressure as I had just married that year.”
At that time, Tshikare and his wife had neither children or a house. They were just building their family. He had to scramble for a survival plan.
“We started buying goods such as clothes from South Africa and Zimbabwe and selling them back home. I eventually managed to build a house on my parent’s plot in Maunatlala since that time I did not own a plot,” Tshikare shares.
He steeled himself and carried on with his informal business, even building a house at New Stance in Phikwe, while still unemployed. Besides his “retail” business, Tshikare survived on piece jobs as well, keeping his patience as the years of unemployment rolled by.
In 1988, he successfully applied for a job at BCL mine as a statistics clerk, ending years of unemployment.
“The job required mainly someone from a statistics background and because I had a bookkeeping background, I was considered.
A two decade veteran of the mine, Tshikare saw it all. He remembers how in the 90s, BCL experienced the same turbulence which caused its closure. He recalls how management would frequently convene meetings to divulge the status of the mine and speak of “consistent low prices in the global markets”.
“As workers, we were used to get sudden bad news then. It would motivate many to do extra jobs outside BCL in case the situation worseneds or in case of job losses.
“We did not rely on BCL housing and as a result, I built two houses; one in my home village and one for retirement in Phikwe.”
Tshikare recalls how small retrenchments would take place at the mine, with its short lifespan being cited, before research would show that operations could continue for longer.
The BCL retiree remembers when former minerals minister, Archibald Mogwe once officiated at the opening of Shaft No 4 in 1992, and assured workers of a longer lifespan at BCL mine.
“My colleagues and I did not take the promise to heart. Instead, we pursued other sustainable ventures such as livestock farming.
“Even the former President Sir Ketumile Masire once addressed us and said we were sitting on a time bomb. That was in the mid-90s, meaning, ‘re beile motsetsi re beile mopakwane.’”
Tshikare’s advice is that everyone working in mines in Botswana should always plan for their future. He recalls that even during former BCL general manager, Montwedi Mphathi’s tenure there was uncertainty about base metal prices and the future of the mine.
“BCL is an indicator that workers at Morupule and other Debswana mines should plan ahead in case similar things happen.”
“Those retrenched at BCL and Tati should not despair but focus on new ventures and utilise the experience they gained at the mine.
“All mineworkers approaching retirement need to seriously plan projects that will sustain their lives.
“Politicians and those in power or in opposition should come up with a holistic approach to address the welfare of mineworkers,” he pleaded.