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COVID-19 disrupts F/town businesses

Haskins Street in Francistown during lockdown PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
FRANCISTOWN: Almost a year after the first coronavirus (COVID-19) case was recorded in the country, the exact economic impact of the pandemic in the City of Francistown, is not easy to fully quantify.

However, various stakeholders in the city have said that based on the prevailing circumstances, the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s economy is already severe. They have even warned that unless government comes up with suitable measures the deep economic slump the city is currently experiencing might be greater than ever before.

In addition, the coronavirus has compounded the already ailing economic situation of the city, which has been ailing since the closure of Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC) in October 2016 resulting in job losses and subsequently, the contraction of the disposal income in the city.

One telling factor that the city is going through a hard time is the growing vacancy of commercial spaces in the city’s popular malls and industrial sites as a result of businesses that are closing owing to COVID-19. Granted, both the entertainment and hospitality sectors have been badly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak in the city. The city’s economy is also anchored on retail businesses, particularly Chinese and Indian-owned. For almost a year, the retailers have not been functioning to their maximum mainly owing to restrictions on travel from Zimbabwe and Zambia. A majority of those who buy from local Chinese and Indian retailers are from Zimbabwe and Zambia. This week, Business Botswana (BB) Northern region manager Eileen van der Est said that an assessment by the organisation shows that most companies in the city have been deeply affected by the pandemic. She called for an urgent intervention by government.

“Companies in Francistown should also be considered to be given incentives as provided for companies in SPEDU region to revive the City’s economy. This should be done as a matter of urgency. Businesses in the city are going through a very hard time,” pleaded van der Est.

Amongst others, companies that set up or operate in the SPEDU region enjoy tax incentives designed to attract investors to do business in the region in various economic sectors. van der Est noted that BB intends to use the pandemic as an opportunity to Build Back Better (private sector) and become the proactive driving force in creating an economy that is more dynamic, inclusive, ecologically friendly and resilient. She expressed hope that Francistown will benefit from such an initiative by BB. “We have identified a number of sectors which we will be implementing the activities  immediately. These include: Tourism, Agriculture, ICT, Energy, Construction, Education and Health,” she said. “A project manager has been engaged to help identify business opportunities available for local businesses post the pandemic (to revive the economy of the country and by

extension Francistown). We foresee local (including those in Francistown) businesses venturing into these opportunities, ” she further said. According van der Est, BB is working closely with Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA), Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC), the City Council and central government to speed up the Francistown Special Economic Zone, which will attract both domestic and foreign direct investors, in a bid to revive the economy of Francistown.

As part of the SEZ initiative government wants to turn Francistown into a mining and logistics hub. In addition BB with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Botswana has developed a five year private sector recovery plan, themed ‘with the private sector acting as its own driving force.’

The goals of the plan among others is to create an enabling business environment and strengthening local value chains. van der Est added that she highly anticipates that the Francistown companies will benefit from the initiave. Early this week an employee at Nan Fang clothing shop which is located in the usually busy Grand Plaza complex popularly known as the Bulawayo Street, Boitshwarelo Sethoro, highlighted the plight faced by many businesses in the city as a result of COVID-19.

Since last year according to Sethoro, the shop has literally been running at a huge loss. He attributes the huge losses for the constant lockdown imposed by Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana in a bid to curtail the spread of the pandemic. “The situation has become so worse that our employers has made several threats to close the business because it is running at a loss. For years we heavily relied on the buying power of Zimbabwean and Zambian traders. Things are very tough because of the restrictions imposed by countries to deal with the virus,” he said. Thaeletsanyo Technology Electric Goods shop owner Liya Wu said that her business has not made any profit since the first lockdown in March last year.

She explained: “Business is very bad. I only receive close to eight customers on a daily basis unlike in the past were they would go as far as 30 customers. The customers who buy from us also do not buy in bulk unlike Zimbabweans”. Wu was quick to warn that if the situation persists she would be left with no alternative but to close shop. The situation faced by Chinese retailers is a reflection of hardships faced by many businesses in the city. This is seen a strong indication that more jobs might be lost in the city if the economic situation does not improve.


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