The skeletal steel and concrete structure of what is supposed to be a job-spinning Shanghai Fengyue Glass company production plant in Palapye stands lonely and desolate with no visible activity in sight. It stretches out within a vast enclosure of shrubby land on the eastern foreground of the Morupule B power plant that in sharp contrast is a bee-hive of activity.
Everything about the massive construction works within the locked-up humongous plot tells of a project that was surely going to be swarming with people and crammed with machinery as they would be going about to produce float glass sheets in their tonnes.
Yet only five Batswana - two female domestics and three men manning the garden and grounds of the Chinese nationals residing inside the compound – appear in isolated patches as they get on with their various duties of safeguarding the welfare of the Asian sentinels who are twelve in number.
Two chained entrances on the far ends of the compound are manned by guards wearing red Security Systems uniform, and in military likeness, each one of them gets jumpy and edgy when asked about what entrance conditions or the whereabouts of the residents. “You are not wanted here; no one is wanted here, especially journalists. Please just go away,” one says, although the Botswana Guardian news pair that makes inquiries there ignores him until he starts dripping details.
Anybody who wants to come into the compound has to make prior arrangements with one Chinese manager identified only as David, the only one who can speak English. His phone number is provided by the guard, but it does not go through. There are residential units inside in the form of portacabins, and only 12 Chinese nationals reside there.
They are only a negligible fraction of those who returned to China when work at the plant was halted amid investigations into questionable dealings that involved the Chinese company and Botswana Development Corporation (BDC).
They have reserved a large chunk of land for producing various forms of vegetables that feed them while the other lot is sold to some other Chinese and Indian nationals residing in Palapye. It is a well-kept food field with evident construction of support gum pole network for nets, and is tended by the three Batswana men employed there as groundsmen.
The workers there complain that they are not well-paid; they go there to pass time. Sometimes they are even made to mend the fence that criminals keep cutting for want of scrap metals abandoned inside.
On the southern end, a railway line has already been constructed that extends to the plant underneath a well-knit fence barrier, another ground sign that this was going to be a massive factory. From that end, the site is lifeless, not even a guard in sight.
The complex scaffolding network that surrounds some concrete structures still remains - a stark reminder that this was a project abandoned while construction was in full swing.
A considerable distance away into the dense Palapye village, dreams remain shattered. Here is a project already worth half a billion pula that promised to create over a thousand jobs, and yet even the leadership of the village has no clue as to what happened and what will happen.
For area Member of Parliament Master Goya, the whole saga around the halting of the project is an embarrassment to him as a leader who had promised his constituents a lot of economic opportunities emanating from the project.
“Obviously this project was going to create an economic boom not only to Palapye and her peripheral areas but to the country as whole and the region as well. My constituents are of course swallowing a bitter pill same as I do.
We were excited about the establishment of this project for obvious reasons that it was going to be an enabler in job creation and create other subsidiary businesses that were going to be established to sell, use the product and its bye-products,” Goya said.
The factory that unfortunately could not live up to its promise remains there, isolated and forlorn. Nothing in it hints at any further development that can soon be of benefit to a thousand Batswana as promised. Only 12 Chinese nationals harvest, eat and sell from the massive field they have created inside, and truckloads of other stuff from China keep arriving with the three Batswana groundsmen often called in to empty the containers.