THABA TSEKA- ‘MAKATLEHO Mputsoe is one of several villagers that have been deprived of their source of livelihood after they were forced to give up their ancestral farming lands to pave way for mining operations in the Mohlanapeng village in the Thaba Tseka district.
Like most other villagers, the elderly widow has survived on subsistence farming and fended for her grandchildren but this is no longer possible after she had to give up her corn fields which fall within the area where the Pure Lesotho Resources Company has been given the nod by government to prospect for alluvial diamonds.
The prospecting licence, which was issued by the former seven parties’ government, expires this year but it could be extended as the company has plans to open the first diamond mine in Thaba Tseka district should the prospecting yield significant finds.
And while the mining project would certainly be a boon for the country’s economy which continues to struggle to attract foreign direct investment, the same cannot be said at a local level for Ms Mputsoe and other villagers whose livelihoods have been affected.
Ms Mputsoe told the Lesotho Times that despite the fact that she has already lost out on the opportunity to plant crops this farming season, she has not even compensated by Pure Lesotho Resources.
Those who have received compensation say there is cold comfort in the paltry M12 000 each which is woefully inadequate to make up for the permanent loss of their fields.
The villagers further say the company added salt to their injuries by failing to consult them before commencing their operations in the area.
“There are procedures to be followed when a miner wishes to mine in a certain area which include consultations with the locals but this never happened and my people know nothing about the proposed mining operations going on in the area,” the area chief, ‘Masebopeho Lerotholi told the Lesotho Times.
Maile Maile, a community member and area councilor echoed Ms Lerotholi’s sentiments, saying rather than consult the Mohlanapeng villagers, the company instead made a deal with the Ha Makunyapane community.
Mr Maile said this deal was struck despite the fact that Ha Makunyapane is a villager on the opposite side of Senqu River and not in Mohlanapeng which is where the prospecting is taking place.
As if losing their fields was not enough, Ms Lerotholi said they had also been deprived access to the sand from the nearby Senqu River which they would quarry for sale to companies and individuals who use it to make concrete for construction purposes.
“The (Senqu) river is also a source of natural resources which the people depend on for a living. The commencement of mining operations will take away some of those resources such as the sand,” Ms Lerotholi said.
For his part, Pure Lesotho Resources representative, Lefa Monaheng, said they followed the correct procedures as they had also got approval from district administrator’s office in Thaba Tseka in addition to the government approval to begin prospecting.
Mr Monaheng also said they were committed to fully compensating the villagers, adding, the M12 000 paid out to each villager was not the full amount.
He however, lamented the lack of a clear compensation policy by the government which should guide the process and make it smoother.
Mr Monaheng disputed Ms Lerotholi’s version of events and instead blamed her for turning down requests for public gatherings ahead of his company’s operations.
He said the gatherings would have enabled the company to iron out any critical issues pertaining to their operations with the local community.
He however, said despite this, his company remained committed to working with the community to ensure a win-win situation for everyone.
For his part, the Minister of Mining, Keketso Sello appealed to all parties to engage in dialogue and find a lasting solution to the impasse, saying this was “only a minor misunderstanding between the parties involved”.
He said mining operations were important as they contributed tax to the country’s fiscus as well as job creation.