MASERU — Former mining minister Monyane Moleleki on Tuesday said Mining Minister Tlali Khasu is going to come back home from his study tour in Botswana a “humbled man”.
Khasu was expected to leave for Botswana yesterday to establish how the Botswana government entered into an agreement with De Beers.
Botswana has entered into a 50-50 joint partnership called Debswana with De Beers Centenary AG, which accounts for all diamond production in Botswana from its four mines of Orapa, Jwaneng, Letlhakane and Damtshaa.
The government says it tasked Khasu to visit Botswana to study how it implemented its shareholding policy in mines.
The study tour comes after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane confirmed that government was seriously contemplating acquiring a bigger stake in mines.
The government currently owns 30 percent while foreign investors own the remaining 70 percent.
Moleleki said Botswana’s production of diamonds is of a higher grade as numerous diamonds are recovered from the ore.
“Our production of diamonds is 300 000 carats annually whereas Botswana produces 33 000 000 carats, with Australia coming second at 30 000 000,” Moleleki said.
“Again, it’s risky to run a mine in Lesotho because we only produce 0.2 percent carats per 100 tons of ore while Botswana produces 19 carats per every 100 tons of ore.”
“Moleleki said this was because Lesotho’s ore is mostly hard rock while Botswana’s is mainly soil”.
“This means because of our rocky ore, processing is labour intensive and costly while that of Botswana is easier and cheaper to process,” Moleleki said.
Moleleki said the only advantage Lesotho diamonds have over Botswana’s is that “ours are of a quality that is 20 times higher than theirs”.
“Lets’eng Diamond Mines especially produces high quality diamonds. But because our diamonds are huge, they are very few and far between whereas those of Botswana are smaller and high in numbers,” Moleleki said.
Due to this reality, Moleleki said, it was risky for Lesotho to even consider taking a similar route to Botswana.
“My strong conviction is that taking a route similar to Botswana is not suitable for Lesotho and government does not have enough capital to put down,” Moleleki said.
“Our terrain is also very (tough) as it’s mountainous, unlike Botswana which is flat and easily accessible.”
The Botswana government and De Beers each injected US$12.5 billion (about M103.3 billion) capital into Debswana, an amount which Moleleki is convinced Lesotho does not have the means to raise.
Moleleki said former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government initially had plans to go the Botswana route but was dissuaded by investment adviser Charles Lipton of New York, who was an adviser to 60 governments around the world.
“Charles Lipton warned us that going the Botswana route would result in dire consequences for Lesotho and made apparent to us the realities I’ve already mentioned to you,” Moleleki said.
“These are the same realities that Minister Khasu is going to be confronted with when he gets to Botswana. He’s going to come back to Lesotho a humbled man, disheartened.”
Moleleki added that what Khasu will see will also exonerate him because for years, while he was still a minister, he was accused of robbing government of diamonds by members of the opposition “especially the All Basotho Convention (ABC)”.
“Maybe this revelation will put to rest the allegations that I used to run around with a can fruit bottle filled with diamonds,” Moleleki said.
“The impression that I sneaked into the Lets’eng mine to steal diamonds will finally be erased.”
Former security manager at Lets’eng Diamond Mine, Bofihla Makhalane, earlier this year alleged that Moleleki orchestrated his expulsion from the mines because he barred the former minister from stealing diamonds.
He further alleged that there was a person who was caught with a can fruit bottle filled with diamonds “belonging to Moleleki”.