Fate of BCL ‘squatters’ hangs in the balance

Govt may decide to sell residential houses belonging to BCL Mine as soon the liquidation process is completed, rendering homeless the families of 1250 ex-employees of the mine in Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown who became jobless overnight when the Khama administration capriciously closed the mine in 2016

Fate of BCL ‘squatters’ hangs in the balance

The new BCL liquidator, Trevor Glaum, may be all that is standing between the government and its desire to sell BCL houses to private companies and persons who have expressed interest, The Business Weekly & Review has established.

All this will be determined soon as the provisional liquidator completes delineating assets of the once mighty copper and nickel mine.

In Parliament this week, the newly appointed Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Lefoko Moagi, hinted at the possibility of selling the residential houses as soon as the liquidation process is completed.

Minister Moagi was giving an update to the House after MP for Selibe-Phikwe, Dithapelo Keorapetse, asked when the current lease would expire and if any expressions of interest for rental of the houses from government departments, private companies and individual people had been received.

“The current lease expires on the 31st January 2020 or until such time that the liquidation is complete, whichever comes first,” Moagi said. “I cannot confirm at this stage if the leases will be renewed because my ministry is currently engaging the liquidator on the matter. The outcome of our engagement with the liquidator will be submitted to cabinet for approval.”

Moagi told Parliament that BCL had a total of 2175 housing units. A total of 461 of are vacant, 27 are being used by the liquidator, 390 are occupied by care and maintenance workers, 1250 occupied by ex-employees of BCL, while 41 units are under third party leases to individuals and private companies. According to Minister Moagi, investors have shown interest in buying the houses to accommodate their employees in the event they acquire BCL assets.

“Parties who have expressed an interest in acquiring the mine have also indicated that they might be interested in the houses for use by their employees in the event that they acquire those assets,” he said. “However, if these expressions of interest are not carried through, the houses will be offered to developers, individual parties and government departments after the plots have been resurveyed to sub-divide the plots because the plots were acquired undivided.”

Pressed further, the minister seemed to downplay the significance of informing ex-BCL employees of the expiry of the leases, saying this would be done during periodic meetings with the liquidator.

Keorapetse appealed to the minister to be lenient when deciding on the leases so as for the ex-employees to continue staying in the houses. Moagi responded: “The conversation we are having with the liquidator in terms of all these considerations is well versed in these comments that we are making.”

Contributing to the issue, the MP for Francistown South, Wynter Mmolotsi (Alliance for Progressives) said BCL houses Francistown were already being sold and that the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) had reportedly acquired some. “I’m talking about BCL in general,” Mmolotsi said. “In Francistown they have already sold the houses to the BDF and they are continuously advertising those houses to sell.”

He expressed concern that an investor acquiring BCL and Tati mines would struggle for staff and workers’ accommodation because the houses were already being sold. On the other hand, government maintains that it is only leasing out the houses and will decide whether to sell them to investors once the liquidation process is over.

“I am not aware of the houses in Francistown being sold,” the minister said, “Therefore, I cannot comment on (that). What I am aware of is that they are on a lease basis, not sold.”

After the government’s infamous decision to close BCL Mine in 2016, staff and workers were given 12 months to vacate the houses but some left them voluntarily. The fate of these who still occupy the houses hangs in the balance.