Chief Mechanical Engineer Tasala Chidoda is among the people that have grown at the Botswana Railways headquarters in Mahalapye.
From a simple technician, he now heads a very critical department at the parastatal-the maintenance and repair. The workshop is divided into two units, being the locomotives, and wagons and wheels. Having worked for the BR for more than 25 years, Chidoda states that some of the components in the workshop have been there since 1982. “The main challenge is congestion as we do maintenance in-house,” he says. However, he reveals that they are working on unit exchange of components, where they take parts to manufacturers and then bring them back fixed and ready for use. He says that they have sent some of their engines to the United States for exchange for testing before. He does not want to comment on what went wrong when the 60 BR wagons were sent back from South Africa last year after they were found unsafe. He only says that they focus mainly on the wheels and brakes, as they are the most critical areas that can cause accidents.
Neither does he want to comment on findings of malpractice and theft at the BR that came after investigations led by the Ministry of Transport and Communications in 2011. As of last year, the BR managed to procure 562 specialised wagons from South Africa’s Transnet to support the country’s blossoming exports of coal and other commodities. The re-fleeting programme came courtesy of the initial P300 million boost from government as part of the parastatal’s 2006 turnaround strategy. The shopping list includes 204 high-sided wagons, 34 coal hoppers and 34 down-sided wagons, designed to both replenish its lean fleet and meet the demands of coal producers eager to tap into export markets. The BR Controls unit, which is the backbone, also boasts of older men who all seem to be passionate about their work. Chief Traffic Control officer Booker Marekwe states that they operate 24/7 and that they operate 16 trains per day. They control the movement of trains. Apart from the intelligence system, they also use train diagram as a plan B.
The BR structuring exercise is expected to finally come to an end today (Friday). Chief Executive Officer Dominic Ntwaagae informed the Joint Negotiation Committee this week that they were going to finalise exit packages. So far new positions, namely Human Capital, Finance and Corporate Services, Business Development and Operations and Engineering directors have been appointed. But it remains to be seen if the consultation talks between the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Union and management will come to an end as the two parties allegedly do not agree on the exit packages that will see 147 employees lose their jobs.
Ntwaagae’s brand grows.
As he continues to attract controversy in his leadership, CEO Ntwaaage has been appointed vice president of the Southern African Railways Association (SARA), a position he assumed in May this year. SARA is the association of railway companies in the Sothern African Development Community, which helps members to fulfill customer demands and service predictability and safety.