FRACISTOWN: Since the provisional liquidation of mines under the BCL Group, the relationship between mine workers union and government appeared to have reached an all-time low.
The Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) was irked by the government’s decision to place Tati Nickel and BCL mines under liquidation.
It held a strong view that the group’s mines were profitable and its operations could have been reconfigured to ensure that they remained running. The government held a different view.
At the height of the tension between the two parties, the unions vowed it would do everything to ensure that the ruling party lost power in 2019 general elections.
Just months following the closure of the mines, BMWU launched a massive crusade to de-campaign the ruling party at a council by-election in Palapye.
Subsequently, the ruling party lost the by-election to the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). In addition, last year the union held various demonstrations accusing the government of not showing commitment to wind up the liquidation of BCL operations or possibly re-open the mines.
However, this week BMWU leaders were singing a different tune. The leaders said they have decided to dump their militant attitude that they had often adopted when they dealt with the government on BCL.
“The new administration appears to be open for dialogue on issues surrounding BCL,” BMWU president, Jack Tlhagale told former BCL group employees in Francistown this week..
“Through our interactions with various stakeholders, we have also learnt that issues surrounding the liquidation of BCL are complex and sensitive than we had thought. That is why we are committed to dialogue with government.”
The members had requested a meeting to get an update on issues surrounding the liquidation of BCL.
“Maybe Khama (former president Ian Khama) did not understand us on issues surrounding the BCL Group or he just adopted a hardline stance towards us which is why we resorted to using a near militant approach when dealing with government (on BCL issues),” Tlhagale said.
“It is worth it to dialogue and see what Masisi will do. We have hope that his government will do something. At this stage we are still trying to manage the relationship with his government”.
According to Tlhagale there is a possibility that the union leadership might worsen the hardships currently faced by former BCL group employees if it did not resort to dialogue.
“If we are not calm there is a possibility that the plight of former BCL workers will not be heard or we will make wrong decisions that may impact badly on their lives. We want to be part of the solutions to the problems at BCL.”
Tlhagale added that the BMWU will only go back to its old attitude if Masisi’s government developed a hard skin and show less commitment to resolve issues relating to the liquidation of BCL timely and through dialogue.
“If at one point we feel that his (Masisi) government is not dealing with us in good faith we will go back to the usual demonstrations and do everything possible to drum up support from the international committee to put pressure on government to resolve issues surrounding BCL,” he said.
Tlhagale’s resolve that they were committed to a dialogue with government were echoed several times by the BMWU general secretary, Mbiganyi Ramokate during a media scrum, after the union leadership addressed its members in Francistown.
At the meeting, members also mandated the leadership to set up an urgent meeting with Masisi with a view to mapping a tangible strategy to resolve the crisis brought by the closure of the mine. Chief amongst their mandates would be to see to it that the mine reopens soon.
Tlhagale also expressed concern that the liquidator Nigel Dixon- Warren has started selling some of the BCL assets on a ‘piece meal’ basis.
He noted that the move is not ideal as it contradicts the liquidator’s original stance that his ‘intention’ is to sell BCL assets as a whole.
He added that such move (selling some assets on a peace meal basis) also makes key BCL assets less attractive. Dixon-Warren confirmed the sale of some houses, which belonged to Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC) to the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).“I sold around 30 houses and vacant land at a compound owned by TNMC Molapo as part of my mandate to serve the interest of the creditors,” he said.
“I however, remain committed to selling BCL assets as a whole, but if there is no interest to purchase the assets as a whole then they will be sold as piece meal.”
The P80 million that the BDF paid for the houses is part of the money that is used to fund the administration of the liquidation amongst others. Dixon-Warren also denied reports that he has sold some machinery or assets at BCL mine in Selebi-Phikwe.
Over 500 employees at TNMC lost their jobs as a result of the liquidation of the BCL Group.
In Selebi-Phikwe nearly 4,000 employees at BCL investment, another subsidiary of the BCL Group lost their jobs when the company was liquidated in October 2016.