Can Mmamabula produce a ‘mini Palapye’?
“There is a budding, albeit huge coal mining project in Mmamabula area comprising Jindal and Mookane Coal Mine,” stated President Mokgweetsi Masisi, heralding the arrival of Mmamabula Power Station in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the start of the month.
“The companies are expected to produce 4.7 metric tonnes and two metric tonnes of coal per annum as well as electricity respectively. These are modularised and scalable even for exports. Once completed, these projects, whose construction has begun, are expected to create a combined minimum of 1, 500 permanent jobs and economic activities in the area. The project is expected to contribute to energy security, as well as generate export revenue for Botswana,” he continued, glowing like a hot piece of coal.
Mmamabula has long been one of the country’s big dreams.
When CIC Energy failed to secure a Power Purchase Agreement with South Africa’s Eskom back in 2010, one of the reasons being that their plans were for Medium Term Power Purchase Programme and not longer term agreement sought by CIC Energy, the project suffered a setback.
This forced the project’s developers to reduce the scope of Mmamabula to small scale, but it later disappeared from national discussion altogether.
This hit the country hard in terms of sustainable self supply of electricity, with Morupule B Power Station struggling from the offset.
“Morupule B has not operated optimally due to technical challenges, forcing the government to import more power from neighbouring countries at a very high cost.
Morupule B was commissioned in 2012 to augment Morupule A, which produces 32 MW,” explained Minister of Minerals and Energy, Lefoko Moagi at the launch of Jindal Mmamabula power station and coal mine project in July, where he declared, “Botswana will become a net exporter of electricity by 2036!”
Placed at the centre of four major ‘villages’, being Serowe, Mahalapye, Francistown and Selibe Phikwe, Palapye is a beehive of activities.
Botswana Development Corporation’s (BDC) failed glass manufacturing project almost 10 years ago did not slow down the town’s growth.
The opening of BIUST in 2006 helped boost P/town’s profile; there are now more than five new malls scattered along the A1 and several hotels that have opened since then.
In 2011, Palapye’s population stood at just over 37, 000; by 2022, this had grown to 52, 400.
There was even talk of opening a new airport between Palapye and Serowe, a project that seems to have vanished into thin air for the time being.
In the 2010s, the only hotel known in the area was Cresta Botsalo and some several lodges. However, there are around 120 hotels and lodges and big brands like Majestic Five, and others have settled in the Palapye. The town is slowly becoming a centre for seminars, conferences, and symposium for government, parastatals and non government entities.
Serowe –Palapye junction has boomed from two malls to add three more: Food Lovers, The Riverview and Diphalane. Several private clinics and car dealerships have now settled in the area, thanks to Morupule B, BIUST, and the recent expansion of Morupule Coal Mine.
In his SONA, the President said Morupule Coal mine has supported 630 jobs from their Citizen Spend of P342 million Corporate Social Investment strategy.
“Since inception in January 2022, the Citizen Spend stands at P491 million,” the President said.
The reviving of the Mmamabula Power Station by Jindal has the potential to transform the Mookane/Mmaphashalala area into a bustling urban centre.
Priced at P16 billion with the assistance of African Development Bank, and expected to pump 820 MW into the National grid by early 2027, this is a huge project.
The coal mine and power station come with economic extras that include: coal fly ash, which can be used in construction of roads and production of fertilizers, glass production and others.
Once the project kicks off, there will be need for schools, health facilities, government services, malls, garages, and roads among others. Whether BPC will have permanent offices and residents in the area has not been finalized at this stage.
With a population of between 20 – 25, 000 inhabitants, the four villages surrounding Mmamabula are Mmaphashalala, Dovedale, Mookane and Pallaroad. They have no senior school, primary hospital and just a sole clinic in Mookane.
The residents are eagerly waiting for the project to spark into life, having been regularly informed about it for more than a decade by the previous developer. The villages will also benefit from a P10 million Corporate Social Responsibility fund that Jindal has established.
Minerals Minister, Moagi insists the small villages will benefit immensely from the project, noting they may later merge and become one big village or town.
“Those who are already in business, or those who want to start new ones, can come closer and assess the situation on how they can benefit,” he said back at the July launch.
The power plant is expected to produce the first electricity by early 2027 at the latest. The company will also be selling coal to other companies in the area and abroad, with the Minister confident that the global demand for coal is ‘satisfying’.
Being the only coal mining and power producing town in the country, Palapye is about to have a sibling or nephew in the name of Mmamabula. It remains to be seen if the area, located some 70km from the South African border, can emulate PY’s success and evolve into a bustling town…hope is high that it can!