Before mining commenced in the east of Botswana’s Central District, there were two places called Selebi and Phikwe. They straddled a large undiscovered deposit of copper and nickel. When this mineral wealth was discovered in the 1960s, a mining township was built in the woodland between the two places with the combined name of Selebi-Phikwe.
The main source of employment in Selebi-Phikwe used to be the BCL Limited mine. It excavated and smelted mixed copper-nickel ore from several shafts in deep and opencast mines. Ore was transported from the shaft by rail and steam-powered locomotives for smelting. The locomotives were bought from the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and South African Railways (SAR).
BCL only intended to operate until 2010, but its activities were extended to 2013, and again to September 2016, when it finally stopped and put thousands of people out of work.
Selebi Phikwe Citrus aims to create 1500 jobs when the farm is fully developed to absorb some of these job losses.
At first, a small coal-fired power station was built along with the mine to meet its electricity needs, as well as that of the surrounding area. Until the late 1980s, this was the only power station in Botswana. It was closed down when the Morupule Power Station began to produce power. The additional and growing electricity demand was met by importing electricity from South Africa. In the current situation of ‘rationing’ by the South African power supplier Eskom, Botswana also suffers from power shortages.
In 2010, a private company Energy Point (Pty) Ltd, promoted by a foreign direct investor from India, started its operation in Botswana to manufacture UPSs, inverters, and surge protectors. Regardless of the fact that the operation was stopped due to non-compliance, the company made a significant mark in this area giving most of the businesses and residences an uninterrupted power supply.
The town itself has a principal shopping mall, the First Shopping Mall LESEDI with an ABC Bank branch and Barclays Extension Counter. There are five in-town hotels (Hotel Stonehouse, Hotel Selebi, Cresta Bosele, Syringa Lodge and Travel Inn), several guest houses and a number of serviced apartment complexes. The Phokoje Bush Lodge is about seven kilometres from town.
The town has a small airport which only operates during daylight hours, and unfortunately does not have refuelling facilities. Selebi-Phikwe has seven government schools and across the town, whilst private schools include Kopano, Marula and Mount Pleasant. There is also a technical college for artisan level training and a College of Applied Arts and Technology is being planned for the near future.
The town is ideally located on a tourist route from South Africa to the popular destinations of Okavango and Chobe. There is significant potential for birdwatching and fishing at the Letsibogo Dam. The latter site also offers potential for sailing if the infrastructure could be developed. Although not indigenous, bass and bream are well established. An experimental population of tigerfish (indigenous to the Limpopo basin) was successfully introduced in 2009, but is insufficient in size for breeding. It is difficult to gain access to the dam due to rough terrain and necessity to camp on the shore, but for the adventurous at heart, it is an ideal setup. There are some local camp sites a few kilometres away from the dam.
Selebi-Phikwe hosts the biggest marathon in Botswana, the Phikwe Marathon. The late Boet Kahts and Phill Roberts, who was a teacher at Selebi-Phikwe Senior Secondary School, started it as a gesture of Community Service in 1985. The marathon is classified as one of the best in the world by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). A report for SPEDU (Selebi Phikwe Economic Development), a local Regional Development Agency, suggests that there is significant potential for expansion of the marathon and also to apply the skills and experience gained by running that event for similar events across the country.