Phikwe dares to dream again as billions pledged in BCL deal

Former BCL miners might return to work
Former BCL miners might return to work

The revival of Selebi-Phikwe received a major boost recently, with the revelation that BCL Mine’s new owner, Premium Nickel Resources Botswana, plans to inject P5 billion towards sprucing up infrastructure at the old mine in preparation for reopening.

Last week, the High Court approved the takeover of certain key assets from the copper and nickel mine by Premium Nickel Resources Botswana (PNRB), a firm headed by former BCL boss, Montwedi Mphathi. PNRB is wholly owned by Premium Nickel Resources, a Canadian base metal developer backed by resource investors in that country and elsewhere.

A wholly government-owned entity, BCL Ltd was liquidated in October 2016, with its main asset, BCL Mine, weighed down by high operational costs, bulging debt and low base metal prices. In Selebi- Phikwe, at least 4,300 workers lost their jobs while the town’s economy collapsed as incomes from mineworkers and procurement by the mine disappeared.

Last year, after an extensive search for new investors, PNRB was unveiled as the preferred bidder to take over some of BCL Limited’s assets. The Mphathi-led firm is taking over the Selebi and Selebi North shafts which represent two of the four underground resources at BCL Mine, as well as Selkirk Mine, which is one of the two resources at Tati Nickel. The total sale is pegged at P837 million and includes related infrastructure such as rail, power and water works.

On Friday, Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security minister, Lefoko Moagi revealed that with the takeover, PNRB would pump P5 billion into developing the mothballed infrastructure at Selebi, with a view to restarting operations in the next three years.

“It is envisaged that further hundreds of jobs will be created,” he said.

“Upon completion of the construction and opening of the new Mine for production, hundreds of additional mining jobs will be created.

“In respect of skills, all forms of mining, engineering, construction and soft skills expertise will be required. Opportunities will be both direct and in the support services. “We are convinced this will lead to the renaissance of the Selebi-Phikwe economy.”

Moagi’s revelations were in response to a question in Parliament by Selebi-Phikwe West legislator, Dithapelo Keorapetse who said people in the town wanted to know the latest developments around the mine.

“Parliament has been periodically updated in most cases through answers to questions asked by the Selebi-Phikwe West MP.

“This is another call from Phikwe residents to be updated through Parliament on the latest information on liquidation of BCL,” Keorapetse said.

The legislator wanted to know about the purchase price of the assets, their value, the skills to be sought, number of jobs to be created, citizen participation and benefit in the project as well as other details.

Moagi said besides the billions of Pula to spruce up the purchased assets, PNRB would also spend P300 million on a prospecting and drilling programme, designed to provide more concrete information about the resources available for mining. Close to 100 jobs would be created “immediately” in this exercise. North American Nickel, which owns ten percent equity in Premium Nickel Resources, expects the drilling exercise to last 18 months, during which metallurgical samples will be collected for more detailed studies.

At present, 481 people are engaged at BCL Mine conducting care and maintenance activities, of which only five are expatriates, Moagi said. PNRB has also committed to paying P69 million to continue the care and maintenance activities, while the transaction reaches all required steps for finalisation.

From March, the BCL Ltd liquidator, Trevor Glaum, will begin disposing of the other assets in the group, both in Selebi-Phikwe and at Tati. Moagi said the assets include two shafts, the smelter, concentrator, tailings dam, slag dumps, open pit, workshops, training centres and labs. Non-mining assets to be disposed of include a hospital, office block, housing units and a farm.

“The liquidator aims to sell the remaining assets of BCL over the next six to seven months,” the minister said.

“The next stage of the disposal process will be started in March 2022 when all persons will be invited to participate in the right to bid to acquire assets on offer.”

For the residents of Selebi-Phikwe, the latest developments hold the promise of a break from six years of economic depression. BCL Mine, directly and indirectly, supported both large and small businesses, with one study from 2006 estimating that local businesses and services depended on the mine to the value of up to P28.6 million a year.

Additionally, BCL Mine’s annual payroll of P180 million as at 2006, meant the injection of critical buying power by mineworkers in various businesses in the town.

The Botswana Mineworkers Union (BMWU), which is engaging with PNRB to employ as many former BCL and Tati workers as possible, has called for more protections for employees in order to avoid the fallout from the 2016 closure. The Union estimates that 11 former BCL Mineworkers committed suicide in the years since the closure while about 19 suffered civil imprisonment for debts.

“Just because someone works at a mine, it does not mean they should suffer when things go wrong,” BMWU president, Joseph Tsimako told Mmegi last December during this publication special report on the town.

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