While supporters of President Mokgweetsi Masisi are waxing lyrical about the president “fixing the country”, his predecessor, former president, Dr. Ian Khama is defending some of the decisions he made while at State House. Amongst the decisions he is defending is the closure of the BCL mine. When Khama made the heavily critised decision to close the mine, Masisi was his deputy. Currently Masisi’s government is exploring ways of re-opening the mine.
Although there are signs that his government erred when they closed down all operations of BCL mine, Khama still vehemently defends the decision stating that the mine had turned expensive to mine and unprofitable.He said in interview with Botswana Guardian last week that P1bn was about the last payment that government stood guarantee for and “we were told BCL will be coming for another P1bn.”
He revealed that government could have spent that or even more over BCL because the state of the mine itself and the commodity prices have been so low. The mine has not been able to generate enough revenue to sustain itself for development and recurrent expenditures hence government continuously had to bail them out, he said.
“That is why other people who were involved as shareholders saw the writing on the wall, not that we did, but we kept the mining going because we knew that if BCL was ever to be closed the impact of Phikwe and the surrounding areas would be quite significant,”Khama said, adding that they got to a stage where it was no longer justifiable to be “using public funds trying to keep something afloat which was never going to come out”.
“You may want to think that it was not a good decision because of the impact on the workers lives and the local community, but when we look at the amount of money and public funds which are for everybody that we were pouring into BCL and we were expected to put more, plus the mine was getting more and more unsafe the older it was getting and you know months before that people had died inside that mine.”
According to him a lot of money was needed to modernise the mine as it was getting deeper and deeper and the life of the mine was getting shorter and shorter. Said Khama, “So the writing was on the wall we had to take a decision. I can tell you as long as I was in government we knew that the mine was going to close one day”.
Khama says for him it would be interesting to see if anybody can walk in there and take over the Phikwe operation as we know it today. “They are going to put in a lot of money and they want their money back, the only way you get the money back is by selling the commodity and if the commodity price is depressed you are also going to make losses.
“So we looked at other things, there was the smelter because you can smelter for other mining corporations and that could be quite a viable thing to undertake, so there are different aspects that can probably be taken over but that needed a lot of money,” he said.
On why the Arabs who looked promising changed heart at the last minute, Khama said when you are not on the ground and you hear about something and you do preliminary investigations, you will think maybe there is an opportunity.
“But, when you then come and do a more detailed survey of what it is you want to take over, it hits you and you realise that this is going to be a big undertaking, what the benefits are, because everybody wants to make profit. So when you do the sums and you realise it is not going to work you obviously pull out.
“They were also looking at issues of Agriculture and maybe a cargo hub for the region. I do not know what was going to be their anchor as they may prefer to have an anchor. Maybe it was the mine and if the mine did not come through they realised that the others were not worth pursuing.”
On other issues Khama denied accusations that he is involved in active politics. “I am not involved in partisan politics, when I went to Bobirwa, no one was wearing red and I was not too. It was not a political event, there were no BDP slogans, and we only spoke about the launch,” he argued, adding that parties do not launch trusts.
He said when it comes to politics he was invited to attend the rally of Reverend Mpho Moruakgomo during the Kgatleng East by- elections. However Khama argued that he is still a member of the BDP and members have obligations and one of them is to support the party come elections. Asked about his relationship with President Masisi, Khama simply said he has no comment. “You just asked a question which I think the answer is obvious,” he said.
Pressed further on the issue Khama said, “I do not want to rush, that is a very important question and it needs a serious and maybe a bit of a lengthy answer. I do not want to rush it and maybe say a wrong thing or you write the wrong thing. I would rather just take my time and explain.” Khama flatly refused to give a comment on Masisi’s presidency.
“I do not know even if I had time, I want to answer that question because one way or the other whatever one thinks, should I be commenting on his running of the country, is that a nice thing to do?” he protested.Among his many government caps, Khama is the Vision 2036 Champion, the Tourism Ambassador and the Patron of the Arts and Culture.
Although he regularly addresses Kgotla meetings as a Bangwato Kgosi , Khama says he will not be taking over on fulltime basis because it won’t be appropriate that, “I just go get another salary job from government.” Khama says he will just interact with Dikgosi from the central district with Kgosi Kgamane and whenever they want to call on him to engage with them, he is available to do that. “But sitting and doing tribal administration, I will not be doing.”