Call for inquiry into mining disputes

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Bereng Mpaki

GEOIDAL Management and Experts (GM&E), a local engineering consultancy has urged the government to set up a commission of inquiry into the disputes between the mining companies and the host communities.

The company recently wrote to mining minister Keketso Sello requesting that he sets up the commission of inquiry that is made up of different stakeholders involved in the disputes.

GM&E says the antagonism between the mines and communities may end up scaring away investors who will in turn take their investments elsewhere owing to the perennial conflicts.

Conflicts reached a climax on 8 February 2018 when a villager was killed during a demonstration by the Kao community in the Butha Buthe district against the Storm Mountain Diamonds operated, Kao Mine.

The villagers demanded that the mine fulfills its developmental promises and the police opened fire into the crowd killing Terene Pitae and critically injuring two other villagers.

Clashes have been reported in the Thaba Tseka district a prospecting company was forced to temporarily halt operations after angry villagers accused it of failing to acknowledge local authorities in the area.

In the Mafeteng district, villagers have previously clashed with the operators of Kolo Mine, Reskol over the expansion of the leased mining area without properly informing the local authorities.

Earlier this year, villagers in Quthing complained that Mohokare Mining Company has overlooked them in favour of outsiders when it comes to employment.

It is against this background that GM&E says an inquiry is required so that the challenges can be addressed to diffuse the simmering tensions.

In the proposal to the minister, Teboho Mojaki, GM&E’s Geology and Civil Engineering Manager said the inquiry would allay communities’ fears that they are being cheated by the mining companies.

“The inquiry will solve the grievances of the communities and the solutions offered by the mining corporations to strike an informed balance that would sustainably enhance socio-economic expectations of both parties,” Mr Mojaki said.

“It is the duty of the government to protect and uphold the interests of the people and also maintain a good investment environment. In this case the government is in a lose-lose situation that requires to be overturned for positive results.

“The commission must be built by experts in both mining and community related fields but with more focus on probing the concerns and difficulties experienced by communities. The commission must be led by independent professionals from the fields of geology, mining engineering, metallurgy, environment, judicial, economics, cultural, public relations and psychology. Politicians from the ruling coalition and the opposition must also be involved as well as independent organisations.”

He said the technical panel will give a perspective of the mining industry in terms of beneficiation versus estimated resource income (or reserve estimate) or profits.

He said the conclusions of the commission of inquiry should also culminate in the crafting of an Act of Parliament.

“These grievances will be a template of issues to address in subsequent mine-community disputes and must be tackled with compassion and rationale. This investigation will cluster these concerns to adequately compensate (or revisit their compensation packages) the neighbouring communities on its loses and decide appropriate general community beneficiation strategy exceeding that of the rest of the villages of the country. It will also sensitise the community on the importance of mineral extraction to the whole economy and the entire country,”

The proposal says the commission would not hinder the operation of the mines as they will only migrate to the new stipulations after the agreement has been operationalised.

For his part, Mr Sello said he had received the proposal and he would study it.

“We have received the proposal and it is currently on the table subject to scrutiny because we believe it has financial implications which we have not budgeted for.

“Once we have fully studied it, we will be able to say whether or not we can adopt it,” Mr Sello said.

He also indicated that the ministry had also established a task team specifically meant to tackle disputes between host communities and mine operators. The team is made up of officials from the ministry. He said the parliamentary Natural Resources Committee has also intervened in the disputes.

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