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The Phikwe Puzzle

SANDY GRANT
The BCL affair is likely to leave many of us pondering for a very long time. My particular ponder concerns the marvelous decision to construct a new bridge over the Limpopo at Platjan.

It baffles me why the government then decided that its construction was a lesser priority and that it should therefore be deferred.  Not only would this project would have meant new jobs but its completion would have been of great benefit to Bobonong, Phikwe and Francistown – all three having  now been devastated by the BCL closure. Surely the Minister of Defence etc, who is also after all the MP for Bobonong would done everything in his power to ensure that work started on that bridge as soon as possible? In the event, however, he seems to have concurred that items such as fighter jets and tanks were more immediately important to the country than the bridge. The central Kgalagadi may be ideal tank country but it has to be presumed that BDF personnel incarcerated in them in 40 degrees of heat must experience something akin to being in an oven turned on to maximum.  But then if is hard to fathom what use tanks can be to this country it is even harder to grasp the value to it of those fighter jets, other than that they are to be replacements – which is not much of a job description! Neither the new fighter jets nor the tanks will be of the slightest use in combating poaching. If the BDF’s priority role is to combat poaching, it would obviously need several dozen helicopters. Instead it is being given the fighter jets. Is there a mismatch here between the needs as spelt out by the BDF and the needs as decided for it by the government? But there is so much more about the BCL affair that is puzzling. Currently, government leaders are busy explaining that the mine has been a dud for years past which has only survived because the government kept shoveling money into it.  Now enough is enough. If that represents the entire story, however, which seems unlikely, the government has had at least thirty years to agree on some sort of a strategy to deal with the situation when the mine had eventually to close. That much has been well spelt out by Minister Seretse (The Telegraph 30.11.16) who advised everyone that all businesses come and go and that the newly unemployed need to come to terms with an unavoidable fact of life. He may have intended well but his comments were

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crashingly ill timed and can have done the BDP no kind of a favour. But steady. The government has promised to create 7,000 new jobs to make up for those lost at the mine – presumably as a result of the efforts of the new Phikwe supremo, Linah Mohohlo. Were it possible to achieve this very optimistic target, the probability is that few of those who been previously employed by the mine would have the skills needed by companies induced to invest in Phikwe. How many might need ex miners? What then? But if it is possible to create these new jobs today, why were they not created yesterday?

 

SPEDU and all the preceding SPEDUs back to at least 1988 have all failed to achieve anything like that target. No disrespect, but there must be a degree of wonder that she was only given this awesome responsibility – which only she is expected to pull off - after the disaster had occurred and not before. And if it is now agreed that it is banking skills which can pull Phikwe out of the mire, why were banking skills not earlier deployed? As it is she is a one off who is now expected to achieve what thirty years of previous government involvement has failed to do.  But what factors can now be present which did not earlier exist

 

which can help her to pull off this minor miracle? Are there any? But then how can other concerns be evaded. If the government truly believes that it can create enough jobs to save Phikwe, why has it not done so with Francistown and Lobatse. Its track record over the last thirty years in attracting foreign investment and in creating new jobs is dismal. Despite the millions that have been invested in that monumental effort, the returns appear to be virtually non-existent.  What new approaches are available to the ex Governor of the Bank of Botswana?  What fundamentally new ideas might she deploy which might require a wholesale shift in current government thinking and systems?  Might she require of the government more than it is willing or able to give? What then? And what time period has been given to pull off the seemingly impossible. But should she succeed, Francistown and Lobatse not least will be knocking on her door to come and save them as well.



Etcetera II

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Selefu

Mr. Kennafela. What prompted you to be a politician?

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