Kebonang fights for Mphathi’s survival at BOTASH

  • War of words between Minister and Board Chairman
  • I’m not your friend- Forbes tells Minister Sadique Kebonang
  • I don’t have any relationship with Forbes- Kebonang
  • I expect Mphathi back at work on Dec 1st- Minister Kebonang
  • Kebonang feels undermined by Forbes
  • Mphathi wanted P12Million handshake


The fight in the abrupt and humiliating dismissal of Botash Managing Director Montwedi Mphathi is far from over. The Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Sadique Kebonang is embroiled in a bitter war of words with Botash Board Chairman Ian Forbes as the two are at loggerheads over the fate of Mphathi.
While Kebonang is fighting tooth and nail to have Mphathi reinstated, Forbes on the other hand is said to have vowed it can only happen over his dead body.
It all started when Botash Board of Directors, led by Forbes, summoned Mphathi to Gaborone and told him to vacate his office on 31st October. Following the board’s decision to expel Mphathi, Kebonang did not hide his disapproval as he felt the decision was made without his input as the minister responsible for Botash.
While Kebonang argued that government as an equal shareholder in Botash deserved to be a part of the collective that decided Mphathi’s fate, Forbes on the other hand, as a representative of the South African shareholders Chlor-Alkali Holdings which is owned by the SynChem Group of Companies, a leader in the chemical holdings industry in sub-Saharan Africa, argued that as shareholders they were protecting their investment. Forbes’ board, which ironically constitutes locals who represent government, expelled Mphathi after accusing him of being ‘unfit’ to steer Botash forward.
After his dismissal, Mphathi is alleged to have demanded a pay-out of P12 million and while the board was still seized with his demands, Kebonang set in motion a plan to reinstate him. With the backing of cabinet, Kebonang was given the green light to reinstate Mphathi.  Forbes did not take kindly when Kebonang sent him an SMS (short message service) on his cell phone informing him of cabinet’s decision to reinstate Mphathi. A furious Forbes is said to have warned the minister to stop communicating with him through SMS because they are not friends, information gathered by this publication shows.
For his part, Minister Kebonang told this publication yesterday (Monday) morning that as cabinet, they expect Mphathi to report for duty on 1st December following a cabinet resolution to reinstate him. ‘‘Mpathi is going back to work, if they have a problem with it they must contact me,’’ Kebonang told The Botswana Gazette authoritatively.  He expressed shock that Forbes did not take kindly to him communicating through SMS, further revealing that Forbes had actually communicated with him through the same platform on some occasions.  ‘‘Not only did I SMS him about the decision to reinstate Mphathi, I also sent him a hard copy of the letter confirming cabinet’s position on the same day,’’ Kebonang said.  Quizzed about his relationship with Forbes, the minister said, ‘‘We don’t have any. We are not friends. Other than that, he is representing the other shareholder, I know very little about him.’’ He said he only sent the SMS to alert Forbes of what cabinet had decided and to sensitize Forbes on what to expect in the official letter that was to be sent later in the day. ‘‘This is the same guy who at times texts me asking for a meeting and now he complains when I use the same mode of communication that was introduced by him. I represent a sovereign state here and this guy must offer me some respect,’’ the minister said.
Kebonang said since he joined the ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security in 2016, he has spoken to Forbes less than five times and that Forbes never introduced him to Botash Board members as protocol dictates. Kebonang said the South African shareholders want Mphathi out of the picture just because he did not assist them when they tried to cheat government by devaluing Botash before they brought a proposal to buy government’s 50% share. ‘‘I have no personal relations with Mphathi. I don’t know the guy personally but I cannot sit and watch as he is being unfairly dismissed,’’ Kebonang said, adding that he had met with Forbes and asked him if Mphathi has stolen anything from Botash and why he was never afforded a hearing as per  labour laws. ‘‘Forbes told me he was firing Mphathi because their relationship had broken irretrievably. He accused him of insubordination even as Mphathi had not expelled the Finance Manager but only suspended her pending a disciplinary hearing,’’ the minister said. Kebonang said he is inclined to believe Forbes undermines his authority as the custodian of Botswana government’s 50 % share in Botash.  ‘‘Can you believe I first heard of Mphathi’s sacking through an enquiry from a journalist and I laughed it off as a joke,’’ Kebonang said in an interview. He said Forbes claimed he had sent him an email but even to date, he has not received the email.
Botash Board of Directors met last Friday in Gaborone to deliberate further on the cabinet decision but speaking to the Botswana Gazette on Monday, Forbes refused to divulge the resolutions made at their meeting, choosing only to say ‘‘ At this time we have no comment to make to the press.’’
While the government of Botswana is currently embroiled in a bitter fight with its shareholder, Chlor-Alkali Holdings, in the Sua- Pan based Botash (PTY)Ltd, the two are also in negotiations that are geared towards selling government’s 50% stake in the company. The South African shareholders (Chlor-Alkali Holdings) have put forward an offer of P800 Million to buy out government from Botash. According to information gathered by this publication, an evaluation report of Botash put the total value of the mine at P1.6 billion. In fact, unconfirmed reports say the South African shareholders are running out of patience and want to get rid of government from the running of Botash. The situation is said to have been exacerbated by the fallout between Botash Chairman Ian Forbes and Minister Sadique Kebonang as the former feels the sooner they get rid of the latter, the more independent they will be able to dictate who takes over the role of Managing Director at Botash. In fact, unconfirmed reports say Forbes came to the Friday Board meeting brandishing a cheque book and ready to buy out government from Botash instantly.  Asked about the impending deal to sell government shares in Botash, Kebonang said cabinet was still analysing the offer. Kebonang revealed that initially the South African shareholders had valued Botash at P800 million in an effort to buy government out at P400 million but when government engaged independent consultants they discovered that the true value of the mine stood at P1.6 billion.
Sources close to the deal however say given the prevailing animosity between Kebonang and Forbes, government may renege on the deal. It is also said government has since established Chlor-Alkali Holdings wants to buy government out and then sell the shares to another entity at a higher price.