FRANCISTOWN: For many years now, Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC) employees were a marvel to watch, especially when driving speedily to their mine, 44 kilometres east of Francistown.
As for the many drivers, they had become the Michael Schumachers of the Francistown-TNMC’s Phoenix Mine road, something that irked other road users who respected road signs. The Francistown-Matsiloje road had become a beehive of activity with drivers racing to beat time, incessantly.
To other road users, the miners might have been a nuisance because of the risks associated with over-speeding, but they must have been highly adroit at handling their vehicles as there was rarely an accident involving the miners.
Although the speeding cars went through glaring danger of cows that strayed onto the road, it was very uncommon for the vehicles to hit the cows.
Interestingly, the police might have noticed this development over time as they tended to mount surprise speed traps which miners beat with precision as those caught will immediately communicate with the rest to watch out ahead. Late coming was a taboo at the mine forcing all and sundry to make it on time at the mine security gate where there is a clocking system monitoring time for use by the mine authorities. All the big car engines competed for attention on this road.
Because the mines provided a high-income bracket, which elevated the miners buying power, you could tell by the type of cars they drove that they indeed had a high buying power. Fanatics of car racing could not get enough as cars of different makes and models hit the road purposely.
With equal measure of speed, buses transporting other cadres of staff never allowed themselves to be overtaken by the small cars. It was never easy to beat those buses going to different routes of the city and moving in convoys of five to six or more at the same time.
Overtaking the buses was never an easy thing as they also drove at break neck speed even in the middle of the city. As if trucks transporting ore concentrate to the Selebi-Phikwe BCL Mine smelter did not want to be outdone, they also had their own way of beating time despite the speed limit of 80km/hour restriction.
This form of driving was unique on city roads. To the villages of Matshelagabedi, Matsiloje and Matopi they had now become accustomed to the noise emanating from the blasting at the mine. Until the mine stopped operation, the villagers reportedly knew the blasting times and their frequencies.
The city never rested because the buses moved around the town’s length and breadth covering the various routes, day and night.
A drive along the Francistown-Matsiloje road this week reflected emptiness, which in a way undermines the economic value of the road that used to be very busy. It is deserted. Women who plied their trade in the informal sector, especially where some of the mine employees parked their cars at their bus stop in Donga location, have been forced to change the spot or abandon the business altogether.
Segametsi Modibedi hails from Mahalapye village and because of shortage of jobs for her as an unskilled person, she resorted to the business of selling various wares including airtime, soft drinks, cigarettes, candies and others.
“I am preparing to go home in Mahalapye and sell from the busy bus/taxi rank. The city is already overcrowded with sellers and the danger is that if I can’t sell, I will not be able to pay my rental here,” said Modibedi this week as she counted her losses.
Even Charity Mokoni (29), a mother of three, is contemplating retreating to her home village of Lecheng because her former employer whom she refused to name has warned her that as he gets his last salary end of October, he cannot risk employing her anymore because he will not afford the salary. As a helper, she was able to do other menial jobs within the houses occupied by male employees of Tati like washing clothes and ironing them.
She was able to make a living out of the jobs she did and now that things look set to be very bleak, she may as well relocate and try her luck in Palapye, which is nearer her home village. The buses that transported TNMC employees are parked just like the long abnormal trucks that transported the ore concentrate to the BCL mine no longer have work with the mine.
Ihawu transport and logistics company transported the ore concentrate from the TNMC to the BCL Mine smelter. The deal has since collapsed.
“The effect of the mine closure on us is humongous. First and foremost, the staff is affected and the impending decision might result in retrenchment,” said Judith Moswela, Ihawu’s group compliance and development manager this week. Looking at the trucks parked at the company’s premises hurts because they have been purchased through a bank loan and Moswela’s challenge now is how are they going to repay the bank loans.
“The whole thing has impacted badly on us as an investment,” she narrated the sad story of how they have been affected by the TNMC and BCL mines abrupt closure. Besides the primary business of transporting ore concentrate, Ihawu also transported aggregates, a form of crushed stones for sale to interested parties.
When the TNMC cancelled various leases of properties occupied by its employees, some of the flats they occupied are still empty leaving the area completely deserted and affecting the property owners’ cash flow position.
The swimming pool and the clubhouse are completely deserted and appear as if they have long been abandoned although it is only two weeks since the mine has closed. The clubhouse is where the workers imbibed, dined and entertained themselves and their friends almost everyday after work especially over the weekend.
Media houses are losers too as this is where (clubhouse) Tebogo Rapitsenyane, TNMC public relations manager used to fete them during the World Press Freedom Day and other events.
The general manager’s walk is one activity that drew thousands of participants to raise funds for the less privileged. The clubhouse was the meeting place after the annual 20 kilometres GM’s walk which has also gone with the mine closure.
Farmers in Matshelagabedi, Matopi and Matsiloje benefitted a great deal from the miners who bought goats from them. Farmers will also wait by the roadside to sell their wares from the fields during harvest time knowing that stuff like sweet reeds, watermelons and maize will attract the attention of the miners’ passersby.
The city is now in unison that life without miners is incomplete. There is a general agreement that Francistown needs the miners, as they are a devil that the city dwellers had come to condone.