Inside the BCL strip and sell grand plan
The recent announcement by Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Lefoko Moagi that government may consider stripping and selling off BCL assets has sparked long held fears that there is no political will to reopen the mine; which was the lifeblood of the SPEDU region.
When updating parliament on the BCL liquidation earlier this month, Moagi said that if the preferred bidder does not make a firm offer for BCL after six months, the liquidator will decide what to do, “including stripping off the asset for sale.”
Lefoko’s words raised memories of Nigel Dixon- Warren, the ousted BCL liquidator who sought a permanent liquidation of BCL from as far as 2017. Dixon- Warren has long brushed aside any possibility of the mine re-opening, insisting that the mine was fatally insolvent.
“In my view, it is in the best interest of all creditors that the company is finally wound up and the liquidation process followed to its conclusion,” he told journalists in 2017.
Dixon-Warren would later fall out with government; after gobbling over P65 million through a P2.2 million monthly wage. By the time he left, government had pumped well over P1billion into the liquidation process.
After Dixon-Warren came Trevor Glaum of Sanek Trust Recovery Services, a Cape Town based insolvency practice that was founded in the 1970’s. Sanek is an acronym for Suid Afrikaanse Nasionale Ekseketeurskamer. Not much is known about Glaum or how Sanek landed the plum BCL liquidation job. Unlike Dixon-Warren, Glaum has never made a public statement or addressed the media. In fact, most of the communication on the BCL liquidation has come from the Minister and the Master of the High Court. Though he prefers to lurk in the shadows, Glaum’s decisions on the BCL liquidation have sparked controversy and consternation in equal measure.
In February this year, Glaum wrote an internal memo to BCL care and maintenance employees informing them that Canadian junior miner Premium Nickel Resources Corporation (PNR) had been selected as the preferred bidder for BCL mine and would be granted exclusive access to the mine to conduct due diligence over the next six months. The announcement sent shockwaves through the international mining community, with pundits questioning why an inexperienced junior miner with scant capital resources managed to out-compete well capitalized and experienced competitors.
In 2019, North American Nickel (NAN) became a founding shareholder in PNR; as it sought exploration opportunities in southern Africa. In its investor presentation, NAN disclosed that PNR is working with CIBC World Markets to raise $26.5 million, of which $2.5m will be used to finance the six months’ exclusive due diligence at BCL. In its update on April 20th, NAN announced that it had raised $1.9 million through private placement; a portion of which would be allocated for continued investment in PNR. Pundits have opined that PNR’s precarious capital position render it incapable of running a P4billion project like BCL. They also questioned the basis for the selection of PNR as the preferred bidder, given that it had not conducted due diligence while others had and were ready to make a firm offer.
But Glaum has remained mum, much to the chagrin of Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament (MP) Dithapelo Keorapetse, who has called for transparency in the sale of BCL as it is a national asset. Meanwhile, a school of thought has emerged suggesting that the bizarre selection of PNR as the preferred bidder could be part of a grand plan to frustrate the BCL reopening while silently pushing the strip and sell agenda.
Proponents of this school of thought point to Moagi’s statement in parliament; when he said if PNR fails to make a binding offer, government will decide what to do, including stripping off the assets for sale and rehabilitating the mining sites. Pundits view this as a clear indication that there is no political will to restart BCL; especially because Moagi did not indicate any intention to re-engage with the second or third bidder to explore ways of reopening the mine. As the situation escalates, concerns are mounting that this could be another classical Botswana blunder, where personal interests supersede the national interest, plunging over 5,000 people into unemployment.
The decision by PNR not to restart the BCL smelter, opting instead to produce and export commercial concentrates, is widely viewed as a mockery of Botswana’s drive for minerals beneficiation. The smelter is a key asset that would not only bring to life Botswana’s mineral beneficiation dream, but also extend BCL’s life span, create more jobs and diversify the national economy.
As such, engineers close to the BCL bid strongly believe that any suitor who did not propose to restart the smelter should have been automatically disqualified. BCL’s Polaris II grand plan sought to position Botswana as an industrial and metallurgical hub with smelting for various metals, nickel, copper, chrome and iron. In addition to the BCL shafts, concentrate could be sourced from Tati Nickel, Khoaemacau in north west Botswana and regional copper operations in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The requisite infrastructure for the smelter is already in place, including power stations, water, rail and roads.
IMPORTANCE OF BCL
BCL contributed P1,639 billion annually to the national coffers, which amounted to 4 percent of GDP. The mine contributed P867 million in total annual income to households in Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown; plus an estimated P49 million to lower income households. It created approximately 10 400 direct, indirect and induced jobs, representing about 3 percent of total formal employment in Botswana. The closure of BCL had severe repercussions that included six suicides. Failing to reopen it would decimate the SPEDU region and result in even more distress.