Almost two years since the BCL mine’s closure and life in Selebi-Phikwe continues to be a struggle for the town’s small business owners.
A recent study by Botswana Council of Churches (BCC) revealed that the former-mining town’s economic downfall has seen some hawkers earning as little as P7.50 a day.
“Today I sold only 3 cigarettes, yet I used to sell over P600 worth of airtime in a day,” an aggrieved hawker was recorded as saying.
Another small business owner stated, “It now takes a week for me to make the same amount of profit I used to make in a day. I used to make P1, 000 in a day but now I am only lucky to make P500 in a day.”
Pre-school owners have also seen their businesses plunge, reporting to BCC that they have lost almost half of their students.
“Parents pulled their children out when they relocated, others couldn’t afford school fees anymore. I’m afraid even more children are going to leave at the end of the year and there has been much less registration for next year.”
Business in Phikwe has been on a downward spiral ever since October 2016 and the closure of the nickel mine, which retrenched all its 5, 000 employees when it went under liquidation.
Small business owners and street vendors have struggled since then as their customers were primarily made up of BCL employees, as well as the mine workers’ dependents and relatives.
“The reduction in number of customers which in turn resulted in reduced profit, has led to retrenchment, increased working hours and reduced salaries for some employees in such businesses, while others have closed completely,” the study observed.
Some small-scale business owners noted they were forced to drop prices of their products in order to attract customers.
Private schools on the other side had to retrench teachers, while transport business suffered with fewer passengers as commuters who used to work for BCL were now staying at home.
The study paints Phikwe as almost a ghost town.
“Walking around the mall in Selebi-Phikwe, one sees several vacant shops that used to be occupied by thriving businesses,” states the study.
Some ex-miners are said to be trying to live off the skills acquired from the mine, including mechanics, welding, electrics, construction and others but business is not easy to get as “there are many, yet lesser number of customers.”
The struggle to make some form of income was evidenced by queues at government’s labour offices, “which has grown longer than before, with people hoping to find some form of employment.”