Mining community mulls legal action 

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Spoil over the wetlands that feed Khubelu river which forms a confluence with Senqu river where the phase 2 dam is going to be constructed

Bereng Mpaki

A COMMUNITY rights advocacy group has warned that the next Chief Executive Officer of Letšeng Diamonds should engage the local community or face legal action over a raft of concerns including land and environmental degradation the mining operations have allegedly caused in Mokhotlong.

This was said by the Maluti Community Development Forum (MCDF) which was established in 2013 to empower communities affected by mining operations particularly in Mokhotlong where Letšeng Diamonds operates.

Letšeng Diamonds operates Letšeng Diamond Mine which is renowned for producing four of the 20 largest white diamonds in the world.

These are the 603ct Letšeng Promise recovered in 2006, the 550ct Letšeng Star recovered in 2011, the 493ct Letšeng Legacy recovered in 2007 and the 478ct Light of Letšeng recovered in 2008.

Gem Diamonds Limited acquired the mine in October 2006 and owns 70% of shares while the Government of Lesotho holds the remaining 30%.

A recent statement from the Letšeng Diamonds Board of Directors, revealed that the diamond mining concern is in the advanced stages of recruiting a replacement for former CEO Mazvi Maharasoa who resigned late last year.

“Recruitment at the level of a CEO of a prestigious company such as Letšeng is a lengthy process and, for many obvious reasons confidentially is of great importance,” Letšeng Diamonds said in a recent statement.

“The Letšeng Board will be making an announcement on the new appointee when it has concluded the appointment process and informed all stakeholders,” reads the statement dated 27 June 2017.

However, the advocacy group said the next CEO would have their work cut in normalising the company’s frosty relationship with the local community.

In a recent interview with the Lesotho Times, MCDF President, Advocate Thabo Lerotholi said the previous CEO ignored the interests of the community while only too happy to benefit from mining the resources which belonged to the community.

Among other things, the community demanded a 5 percent stake in the mine.

Adv. Lerotholi said they were considering approaching the courts over social injustices they had suffered at the hands of the mine, including environmental degradation.

He said the mine had destroyed the wetlands they depended for clean water. He further indicated the mine was employing a divide and rule tactic when it comes to extending social responsibility initiatives among community members.

“We are concerned with how the new CEO will address the issues that for a long time have been raised by the community, and if he/she does not change the approach in handling these issues, he/she should expect to meet us in court,” Adv. Lerotholi said.

MCDF Secretary General, Likotsi Lemeke said the drying wetlands could jeopardise the multi-billion maloti bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project since the wetlands were located upstream of the Khubelu River which feeds into the planned Polihali Dam.

Mr Lemeke further claimed that the mine has subjected the community to drinking raw untreated water after destroying their wetlands.

“Again, the community living below one of their dams is in perpetual fear of the dam bursting as this  could be detrimental to their lives and their property,” he said adding they wondered if there was an insurance plan to compensate the people in case of disaster.

Another issue of concern is that of the noise from blasting at the mine which often scares off livestock and wild animals.

The razor wire securing the mining area has proved to be a hazardous trap for livestock which reportedly get stuck in the fence and even die there.

Adv. Lerotholi however, said they noted with satisfaction the nascent efforts by the mine to engage the community in resolving the concerns.

“Very recently they approached the community to get input on how we can work together in their corporate social responsibility initiatives, something they never used to do in the past.

“We therefore take pride in the fact that they are starting to listen to our advice.”

Adv. Lerotholi said they hoped the new government would not follow the example of the previous one which allegedly connived with the mine to frustrate a 2016 petition by the community to raise awareness about its plight.

“In 2016, people were harassed and made fun of by the police. They were asked by police to get off the trucks and hold their ears and jump like frogs.

“Yet the police had sanctioned the march under the law,” he said adding the police had since apologised.

He added they were happy with the support they were receiving from the international community.

“We have been sharing our experiences at different fora around the Southern Africa region and we will go as far as Europe in our quest for justice if need be.”

Meanwhile, Letšeng Diamonds Communications & Community Relations Officer Lebohang Chefa responded by telling the Lesotho Times that, “Letšeng remains a responsible corporate citizen that complies with all the requirements of the Mining Lease Agreement and is an integral part of the Mokhotlong community”.

 

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