The General Manager of Morupule Coal Mine, Edwin Elias is settling well at the country’s largest coal producer. In this interview with KOOBONYE RAMOKOPELWA, he talks passionately about the importance of coal to the development of Botswana’s economy, citizen economic empowerment initiatives, and how Motheo Project will transform the mine, among other topical issues.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: Kindly introduce yourself and Morupule Coal Mine to our readers?
I am Edwin (Eddie) Elias currently, the General Manager of Morupule Coal Mine (MCM). I am a Metallurgical Engineer by profession, with over 20 years of experience within the mining industry. I have worked predominantly in the diamond mining Industry with Debswana and De Beers Group of Companies. I am also a Board Chairman of the Botswana Institute of Technology, Research and Innovation (BITRI) and a Board Council Member of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). MCM was established in 1973 to mine and transform coal into unlimited sources of energy. The MCM business is at the heart of a prosperous future for Botswana where coal production contributes significantly to the economic development of the country. The coal mine is 100 percent owned by Minerals Development Company Botswana (MDCB). The company’s vision, is ‘To be a leading coal energy business’.
BG: What are some of the immediate strategies which you have implemented since your appointment less than a year ago?
ELIAS: As a team we have basically established the case for change for MCM, reviewed our business model and identified high level strategic focus areas for the mine. The intention is to ensure that we maximize shareholders value, enhance safety performance and overall productivity levels. MCM will create focus on promoting collaboration amongst our key stakeholders; building sustainable partnerships; building a robust sales and marketing capability; empowering our employees to ensure that we promote creativity within the workplace.
BG: You have spent years working as a miner within the diamond sector. How has been the transition from diamond to coal mining?
ELIAS: I am happy to state that both Debswana and De Beers have contributed significantly towards my growth and development. The skills that I acquired throughout the years, working for these companies, have allowed me to have a smooth transition in the coal mining business. The underground challenges and risks are unique but the support and guidance has been amazing. The Board of Directors, Management and the rest of the employees have supported me from day one. I also need to thank the community leadership; business community for an unwavering support that has allowed me to settle well and be able to transition.

BG: As a coal mine, who are your clients?
ELIAS: When MCM was established, its primary client was Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) which operates the Morupule power stations. Even today, BPC still gets a large part of our produce. Over time, we have also managed to grow our client base to include cement producers, industrial food and beverages sub-sectors as well as the broader mining sector. Some of our clients are in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. The grand plan is to ultimately play a significant role in the global coal market. The Motheo project will give us capacity to produce more coal and allow us to sell to bigger markets such as India and other Asian countries, who have strong appetite for coal.

BG: How many jobs have been created by MCM?
ELIAS: As of 2022, MCM has a staff complement of 716 including Motheo Project.

BG: Provide background to the expansion of Morupule mine.
ELIAS: There is a continually increasing demand for coal regionally and globally, hence the recent coal price surge in the international markets. The coal shortage is caused by increased demand for energy in the Asian market and limited new investments in coal industry in the past few years. Motheo Project was a response by MCM Board and Management to take advantage of the current premium coal prices and coal supply shortage, to develop a new operation that will fill the coal supply gap. The project will expand MCM operations from the current coal production capacity of 2.8 million tons per annum to 4.2 million per annum of run of mine (ROM) coal. This was planned deliberately to be scalable to allow for future growth, hence the name 'Motheo'. The project scope includes the development of an open cast coal mine, Coal Handling and Processing Plant (CHPP) and the associated supporting infrastructure such as haul roads, electrical transmissions lines, communication lines, waste and water treatment plants, offices among others.

BG: How many jobs have been created as a result of this expansion?
ELIAS: The project has created over 1300 employment opportunities during the development phase and is expected to create over 400 permanent jobs during the operations phase.

BG: How much is being invested in the mine’s expansion?
ELIAS: The total cost to develop the Motheo Project is over P 1.7 billion and the project is being fully funded by MCM from cash flow.
BG: What does the future hold for coal, given the fact that more and more countries are pushing for clean and renewable energy?
ELIAS: The future of coal is still bright and similar to most organisations, MCM will also transition towards clean and renewable energy. However, this is a journey, hence through our strategy we will be launching Smart Coal Mining under our technology capability strategic focus area that ensures that we fully adhere to the COP26 – Conference of the Parties requirements. We will identify and adopt the latest technology that will assist us with the transition towards clean and renewable energy.

BG: Are there immediate plans to beneficiate coal? ELIAS: Coal beneficiation is part of our Resource Development Plan (RDP). It is more of a medium to long term initiative which we are jointly working on with our partners, namely Botswana Oil Limited (BOL) under the Coal to Liquids (CTL) project. At this stage, a request for proposals has been issued to private enterprises with the capability to venture into this development and the procurement process managed through BOL is ongoing. MCM is geared to be the fuel supplier to this type of project. Motheo is part of the preparation and readiness for such an eventuality.

BG: What are the current production targets for 2022?
ELIAS: The production volumes for MCM are mainly driven by BPC offtake requirements. The targets set on a regular basis are adjusted to meet the offtake requirements, and the underground operation is able to produce 2.8 million tons per annum. The current Motheo open cast operation will be producing 1.4 million tons per annum (Making it a total of 4.2 million tons per annum). BG: What corporate social investment activities has the company embarked upon within the communities you operate in?

BG: What corporate social investment activities has the company embarked upon within the communities you operate in?
ELIAS: There are a number of corporate social investments projects which we have carried as a mine over the years. Partnerships are important when carrying our CSI projects, hence we work closely with key stakeholders such as community leadership, business community among others. In the past, MCM has donated medical equipment and vehicles to Serowe Palapye District Health Management Team(DHMT) as well as a W430 Komatsu Front End Loader and other associated equipment to Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). MCM has also contributed to the COVID-19 Relief Fund set up by government to fight the pandemic. We have also joined hands with BIUST for the production of hand sanitizers to help the fight against Covid-19. MCM sponsors Morupule Wanderers (from First Division to Premier League). Furthermore, we have built a disabled classroom block with toilets at Ratsie Setlhako Primary School and play park/jungle gyms at Sehunou Primary School. There are a number of CSR projects which have been undertaken both within Palapye and surrounding areas. We will continue to give back to the community in the months and years to come.
BG: What citizen economic empowerment initiatives are available within the mine that are of importance to citizen companies?
ELIAS: MCM takes government citizen economic empowerment strategies seriously. We are mindful of the fact that, by deliberately giving citizens opportunities, we will in the end help create sustainable businesses which can also help grow and diversify the economy in the longer term. MCM has in place, a Citizen Economic Empowerment Programme (CEEP)which guides all our citizen empowerment initiatives. Under the CEEP, we have partnered with several institutions which among others provide critical capacity building and financial resources to citizen companies who do work with the mine. For example, we have partnered with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to help us build capacity for citizen companies who supply the mine with various goods and services. In addition, we have also signed Memorandum of Understanding with major financial services providers, who are of critical importance when it comes to provision of financial services to those citizen companies who do work with the mine. MCM has also deliberately reserved certain goods and services to citizens. Some of the services and goods include media and advertising, borehole drilling, boiler-making for small works, cleaning, gardening and labour hire. Other services also include pest control, plant hire, residential security, panel beating among others. There are also opportunities for citizen companies within our supply chain projects such as manufacturing of belt structures and pulleys, roof support equipment, stone dust, manufacturing of ventilation curtains among others. In addition, we are also setting up an office which will coordinate Morupule Coal Mine citizen economic empowerment program through identification of value creation opportunities, developing and executing Citizen Economic Empowerment strategies consistent with the mine's business goals.