Masama snag delays

President Mokgweetsi Masisi. PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
President Mokgweetsi Masisi. PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO

Selebi-Phikwe residents recently learnt that a water project near Gaborone, put on the backburner, has delayed creation of the town’s 1,500 new jobs.

This has put the prospects of jobs from the project in doubt, as the new investor in the town, a citrus fruit company, cannot be allowed to draw water from the nearby Letsibogo Dam since it is a high national security feature delivering water to the water-stressed southern Botswana and greater Gaborone areas.

The investor has been described as one of the greatest citrus fruit producers in the world and the company currently operates two of the largest fruit production and packaging plants in the world found in Brazil and South Africa.

Setting up in Botswana is also projected to see the country being self-sufficient in export of fruit and fruit-related products while creating import opportunities in food products. Addressing Selebi-Phikwe residents last Thursday, President Mokgweetsi Masisi bemoaned the recent decision by Parliament to reject funding for the 100km Masama wellfields-Mmamashia water project, which is not only impacting negatively on the lives of the 500,000 in greater Gaborone and southern Botswana, but has put the brakes on a huge investment opportunity. 

The potential to revive Selebi-Phikwe and the SPEDU region’s economic fortunes with instant creation of 1,500 jobs from a large scale citrus fruit company with establishments in Brazil and South Africa setting up in the town, could easily be lost.

The investor, according to President Masisi had eyed the water resources of Letsibogo Dam for the project, with high hopes that the high national security level of the dam would have been reduced by the coming into effect of the new Masama-Mmamashia pipeline adding some extra 65 million litres of water a day.

However, Masisi said under the circumstances the Minister of Water Resources Management is hesitant to authorise the use of Letsibogo Dam for the Phikwe project, while there remains uncertainty for the 500,000 people in the south.

At 1,500 jobs the new investor would be the largest single most investor in the SPEDU region in terms of job creation, as currently investment in the region stands at 1,600 jobs created by 35 companies over the last three years.

Since construction of Dikgatlhong and Letsibogo, the two dams were designated high national security status with no agriculture activities around them.

However, it was expected that with the coming into being of a new pipeline from Masama soon, flexibility would be created, enabling for foreign direct investment and job creation, especially for water intensive industries eyeing to set up near reliable large bodies of water sources like in Phikwe. Water resources minister, Kefentse Mzwinila confirmed to The Monitor that the request to release Letsibogo Dam water for the Phikwe project is on his desk, but said the urgent water situation in southern Botswana has to be resolved first before he could sign off for the citrus business.

“I’m not delaying the Phikwe project; naturally I would support it as it benefits the people of Mmadinare, Phikwe and the SPEDU region; also 1,500 jobs can support 4,000 people or more in those households, before adding economic spinoffs for Phikwe as a town, which would be huge and a relief after the collapse of the BCL Mine,” enthused Mzwinila.

“But as I’m holding this pen, I know there is another dire water situation affecting half a million people and industries in greater Gaborone and southern Botswana; more connections have been added to the already stressed supply; Thamaga, Moshupa have recently been connected to the Gaborone water pipeline, but there is no extra water to cater for the increase in connections. So how do we give water to this Phikwe investor, while half a million people need every drop right now?” asked Mzwinila. Information gathered by The Monitor indicates that the investor was in fact eyeing to use the water quota previously set aside for BCL Mine, which is currently under liquidation.

But Mzwinila says the BCL arrangement has been overtaken by time and events.

“That arrangement would no longer be entertained. Besides people should understand that the mine had its own water sources under ground, there was lots of water there during mining, that’s why today the mine is flooded,” reasoned Mzwinila.

The minister said government knew what they were doing when the concept of the 100km Masama pipeline was put into action, saying it was not only for southern Botswana and greater Gaborone, but also to avail water at the large dams for foreign direct investment.

“Maybe some do not understand the size of Masama wellfields, those are not your ordinary boreholes, it is underground aquifer, a lake of underground water, and they are larger than Letsibogo and Dikgatlhong dams combined,” explained Mzwinila.

“That’s why as government we have so much faith in them as a relief measure in the short-term and long-term, but we are not discarding the North-South Water Carrier scheme, or the Zambezi water transfer scheme, or Lesotho Highlands water project, we need all of these, that’s why we have fast tracked the North-South Water Carrier II. It is currently at PPADB stage, so Masama 100km is not coming at the expense of the NSCII.”

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