SEFHOPHE: Some former BCL Mine employees are said to be serving civil imprisonment for failing to service their bank loans following the closure of copper/ nickel miner.
This was revealed during the Alternative Mining Indaba by Botswana Council of Churches (BCC) in Sefhophe on Friday where Botswana Mine Workers Union representative David Lesejane said they have approached commercial banks about the ex-miners’ plight following the Mine’s liquidation.
He said the banks explained that they requested the ex-miners to always update them about their status, but they do not do so.“We have even brought the situation to the attention of the relevant minister during one of the engagements recently,” he said. He later told The Monitor that the number of those incarcerated is around 20, but the figure is likely to be more, as others may have not brought their situation to the attention of the union.
He revealed that a significant number of ex-employees have already committed suicide as a result of depression.
Lesejane said as a result of the Mine’s closure many families have broken down and there is a stampede for Ipelegeng slots because it is the only job opportunity available. He said the closure did not only affect former employees, but has far-reaching consequences as other stakeholders like Botswana Power Corporation and Water Utilities Corporation have cashflow challenges while Morupule Coal Mine that was the main supplier of coal to the mine has not been spared.
“We are now trying to convince government to pay ex-employees’ packages similar to that of retrenchment and we are awaiting feedback,” he said.
The workshop had degenerated into an emotional session as ex-workers who attended were almost in tears as they narrated their predicament. Dipuo Gabadise nearly brought the house to tears as she said they had made agreements with financial institutions, but the banks have now turned against them and treat them as criminals.
“They were even cruel enough to take part of the notice money that we got. We would like to know how much government is doing to negotiate with banks on our behalf,” she said. Gabadise said it is obvious that all of the ex-employees would be imprisoned because of a situation they did not orchestrate. She turned to the village leadership who included former vice president, Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe.
“Le tla ya go re tlholela ko prison
“We expected our contributions to assist us in situations like this one,” he said. Ex-miners also appealed for a programme similar to Youth Development Fund specifically designed for ex miners to assist them device some means of survival.
They also highlighted that those who were trained in first aid never received their certificates and they expired before they even received them.
In response, Lesejane said it is not in the union’s constitution that membership subscriptions and ceased membership cease upon failure to subscribe for three months.
He, however, explained that the union has moved swiftly to lodge a plea with the government to pay ex-miners therefore their membership is still in force pending feedback. He said some ex-miners have been paying subscriptions as far back as 1990 and this compels the union to plead with government to have mercy on the ex-miners.
Lesejane further said the first aid certificates for those who trained three months prior to the Mine’s closure were not yet released to the mine and were not paid for.
The BCC vice president, Reverend Gabriel Tsuaneng said the situation affirms a state of despair for ex-miners and said the church therefore has to step up and speak. He said they would continue to engage government until a solution is identified. He said BCC would be happy to facilitate the process of dialogue with government if the union is willing to partner with them.
“I thank government because they have always allowed us audience whenever we want to engage them,” he said.
Kgosi Segwabe Segwabe had earlier indicated that they once organised pastors to provide counselling for ex-miners.
He also encouraged them not to despair, but know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and to devise other means to close the void left by BCL and have hope that it is not the end of the world.