The streets of Selebi Phikwe in northeastern Botswana no longer teem with trucks, and once-busy shop assistants and bank tellers wait for the rare customer.
Since state-owned mining company BCL Ltd. closed its loss-making copper and nickel operation that was the economic lifeblood of the area two months ago, the settlement of 50,000 has become a virtual ghost town.
The government says it can’t afford the 8 billion pula ($752 million) needed to recapitalize the mine. Instead, it’s asked former central bank Governor Linah Mohohlo to oversee a plan to rescue the region. “There is despair, anguish and sorrow,” said Dithapelo Keorapetse, one of the town’s two members of Parliament. “The future for many is uncertain. For some there is no future.”
The mine closure is symbolic of the malaise among Botswana’s metal producers that bore the brunt of the commodity price rout. The copper and nickel industries have been decimated as a result of the BCL shutdown and the earlier closure of shafts owned by Discovery Metals Ltd., African Copper Plc and Tati Nickel Mining Co. Together they accounted for about 4.5 percent of the southern African nation’s exports in the first half of the year.
Botswana’s savior has been its diamond industry, the backbone of the economy since the first deposits were discovered in 1967. The gems are expected to generate 27 percent more revenue this year than in 2015, thanks to a rebound in prices and global demand, President Ian Khama told lawmakers in Gaborone, the capital, on Dec. 5.
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