Government has granted Minergy Mining licence for its Masama Coal project in Kweneng District, despite red tape that has delayed the process.
The latest paves way for the coal explorer to commercialise its assets, becoming the second operating coal mine after Morupule Coal Mine which is partly owned by Botswana government. The BSE listed company announced to shareholders this week that the granting of the mining licence follows the completion of a feasibility study and the authorisation of the environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
Up-beat about the development Minergy Chief Executive Officer, Andre Boje said the mine will start with 1.2 million tonnes per annum of saleable coal, which the miner intends to double to 2.4 million tonnes per annum depending on the market conditions.
“We are moving forward with production and are set to start mining in January,” said Boje.
He further highlighted that the mine will employ between 400 and 450 employees on site, as production kicks off in January 2019, and possible increase by 200 when production ramps up. In June, Minergy had challenged governments departments to adhere to regulatory timeframes stating that accelerated regulatory timeframes will allow Botswana to expeditiously utilise the country’s over 200 billion tonnes of coal resource.
He further challenged government to reduce company tax to 15 percent for coal exporting companies from 22 percent, as it is done for coal producers supplying power generation. Minergy is on record saying it wants to fast-track its production to meet the growing gap of supply and demand in the coal mining industry.
Adding his sentiment on the development, a delighted Botswana Chamber of Mines (BCM) Chief Executive Officer Charles Siwawa hailed the development as the start of good things for the coal industry.“We can now have a coal industry,” said Siwawa highlighting that the development is bound to excite other miners.
He however implored miners to embrace new technology that does not release a lot of gases into the air during mining.Siwawa said mining without harming the environment supports Botswana’s sustainability efforts. Meanwhile, pre-mining construction work has already begun on site at the Masama Coal Project, allowing Minergy to have the final mine commissioned in January 2019.
According to Minergy, the miner is now able to break ground and invite contractors to start work immediately as well as to actively engage the local communities about job creation and several upliftment programmes, including improving the school and the clinic in the village closest to the mine, Medie in Kweneng district, as well as bringing in electricity.
There is new twist in the long-standing dispute between the Debswana Mining Company and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) over installation of full body ray scanners.
Debswana had taken DEA to court to compel the department to give approval for installation of the machines. While DEA had not filed opposing papers the case was scheduled for status hearing last week Thursday. It has since emerged that the department had a day before the case came for status hearing, written letter of approval for a go ahead.
Now Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) has entered the fray and is tomorrow (Saturday) scheduled to petition Debswana Mining Company over its intention to install the controversial low dose full body X-ray scanners (Scannex) at its mines.
The installation of the machines has been marred by controversy for the past five years when the diamond mining company revealed that it would be installing the machines with the aim of protecting the precious stones from theft. The petition by the union follows the decision by DEA authorising installation of the machines.
The diamond mining giant got a conditional license some years back from the Department of Radiation to install the low dose full body X-ray scanner (Scannex) in various locations at the Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines. Debswana had submitted a Draft Scoping Report to DEA. The DEA had initially questioned whether statistics by Debswana imply a decline in cases of diamond theft and if it also suggests the success of the current security measures.
In an interview with Botswana Guardian this week BMWU President Jack Tlhagale said they are still against the installation of the machines. He explained that they are aware that a day before a court case by Debswana challenging the delay by DEA the department granted the authorisation for installation. Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama was at one point accused of blocking the authorisation. In his defense, Khama stated that all he wanted was for proper procedure to be followed indicating that he would not endanger the lives of miners who are Batswana. The minister explained that as soon as Debswana avails all the necessary documentation as per the request his ministry would grant the authorisation.
“The case was to be heard on June 21st 2018 and a day prior, a letter of authoirastion was issued. What also worries us is that for a long time we have been questioning the installation of these machines but we were not made part of the court case.
“We could have made our case known before court why we believe the machines should not be installed. This is why we are petitioning the company at both Jwaneng and Letlhakane mines where we expect Managing Director Balisi Bonyongo or representatives to receive the petition,” said Tlhagale.
Under “dose limitations” DEA had asked Debswana to stipulate the number of times employees are expected to be exposed to these scans in the different areas of the mine per day “in order to determine the possibility (or lack thereof) of exceeding the limits”. Pregnant women and individuals under the age of 16 are exempted from exposure to the scanner.
The union President said Debswana has failed to bring concrete proof from external experts to indicate that a small dose of ionising radiation is not harmful. “We engaged experts whom in their report expressed fear that exposure to ionising radiation could result in cell death, cell damage, cancer and that prolonged exposure could lead to death. Botswana Mine Workers Union is against the use of Scannex,” said the president.
Debswana has justified the use of Scannex saying the physical search methods and surveillance of personnel at work areas have proven insufficient. “Since diamonds are portable, and easily concealable, a diamond thief can conceal the stones in body orifices such as nostrils, ears, mouth, navel, penis (urethra and foreskin) or vagina or the rectum,” Debswana stated in its draft scoping report to DEA under the subhead “rationale for the project.”
Tlhagale argued that using South Africa and Namibia as success stories of the use of this technology for over 20 years is not justifiable. “Because those machines were installed by apartheid regime. We also know how the regime treated people so that is not justifiable. As we have said before and explained by experts the Radiation Protection Regulations of 2008; Regulation 37 (5) requires that records of workers be preserved until the worker reaches 75 years, and for not less than 30 years after termination of work involving occupational exposure.
“Where are we going to get records of such people? Who is going to be monitoring them because obviously Debswana would not be doing that? People would get sick after having retired from the mines and die without any records being kept. We are worried about this situation because our members are going to be subjected to these machines every day when they knock off,” he explained.
Tlhagale said they would also petition the company on the 3 percent salary increase which was agreed in 2016. He said they want a new increase to be negotiated. “We had agreed to the 3 percent because at that time it was public knowledge that our diamonds were not doing well. Currently things have improved,” posited Tlhagale.
In the agreement between the parties there is a clause that stipulates that parties can review if inflation goes beyond 5 percent. However, Tlhagale argues that that should not be the only factor that is being considered. Minister Khama could not be reached for comment this week as he was said to be busy with Sothern African Customs Union (SACU) summit while DEA Director Charles Mojalemotho was said to be in Denmark on official duty.
Debswana’s Corporate Affairs Manager Matshidiso Kamona said Debswana has not received an approval to install Scannex machines. “We can confirm that we have received an official notification of a planned mass demonstration by the Botswana Mine Workers Union. According to the note addressed to the Managing Director of Debswana, Mr. Balisi Bonyongo, the petition relates to unsatisfactory conditions of service in general and it has no reference to Scannex,” she said in her short email response.