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 primary source of employment in Selebi-Phikwe was the BCL Limited mine. It excavated from deep and opencast mines, extracting and smelting mixed copper-nickel ore. The ore was then transported for smelting by steam-powered locomotives, purchased from the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and South African Railways (SAR).
Originally, BCL planned to cease operations in 2010. However, its activities were extended until 2013, and later to September 2016 when production ceased. This resulted in an unfortunate loss of jobs for many individuals.
In an effort to address these job losses, Selebi Phikwe Citrus is determined to create 1500 jobs when the farm is in full production. The project offers employment opportunities while contributing to the local economy.
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, LESEDI mall, 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 also has a small airport which only operates during daylight hours but unfortunately does not cater to refuelling needs. Selebi-Phikwe has seven government schools across the town, as well as private schools including Kopano, Marula, and Mount Pleasant. There is a technical college for artisan-level training and plans are in the works for building a College of Applied Arts and Technology.
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 once the infrastructure is 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 the necessity to camp on the shore, but for the adventurous at heart, it is an ideal setup. There are some local campsites 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 the expansion of the marathon and also to apply the skills and experience gained by running that event for similar events across the country.