DIALOGUE between mining operators and the surrounding communities is crucial for a harmonious and mutually-beneficial relationship.
This was said by Mining Minister Keketso Sello during public gatherings held last week with the surrounding communities of Kao and Liqhobong mines in Butha-Buthe district.
Kao Mine is operated by Storm Mountain Diamonds, while Liqhobong mine is operated by Liqhobong Mining Development Company.
The two-day tour was meant to assess the relationship between the mine operators and the host communities. The minister’s entourage also included the chairperson of a parliamentary committee on natural resources Michael Molefe.
Among the villagers’ concerns were the cracking and collapsing of their homes due to blasting works at the mines, dust pollution caused by the heavy duty trucks hauling kimberlite and the toxic liquid waste from the mine being dumped into Kao River.
The villagers indicated that the dust made them vulnerable to contracting tuberculosis (TB).
“When the blasting takes places, the ground on which we stand trembles; it is a horrifying feeling which gives the impression that we are about to breath our last. It is such a scary experience!” said Nku Qophe, a villager living near Liqhobong mine in an eponymously named village.
‘Manalane Molefi from Ha Shishila, a village near Kao mine, said at least two houses collapsed due to the ground tremors caused by blasting works at the mine, while the walls of countless other houses have cracked.
“We have raised this issue with the management of the mine several times,” she said. “At one point, the affected properties were recorded by the mine but so far nothing has come of it, and no one form the mine has reported back to us since.”
Ms Molefi indicated that their lives were in danger because of living in houses that were cracked and could collapse on them at any time.
She also called on the mine to take the villagers for TB screening on a monthly basis due to the dust pollution.
“Just as the mine employees are taken for monthly TB screening, we want the rest of the villagers to receive the same treatment because they are exposed to the dust,” said Ms Molefi.
“How will you feel, minister, when all people in this village are suffering from TB when the time has come for the mine to close down?”
Water pollution caused by Kao mine, she further stated, was causing numerous health hazards to both people and animals. She said children from the area exhibited an unexplained type of rash after getting into contact with the contaminated waters of Kao River.
Ms Molefi said a cow that fell into a ditch containing waste liquid from the mine came out bleached and without its fur.
“When it came out of the sewerage, the cow was looking pinkish in colour, because all its fur was completely gone!”
“Please talk to the mine operator to find alternative means in which it can dispose of waste in a more environmentally friendly manner.”
The villagers were also not happy with the land compensation packages the mine operators were giving them. She said some people received annual compensation disbursements for only 20 years for arable land that had been affected by the mine’s operations,.
Ms Molefi said this was not enough because their land would not be restored to its original state after the lapse of the compensation period. She then suggested that villagers should receive compensation packages at least for the duration of the productive life of the mine.
Other villagers complained about the employment of people from afar at the expense of the host communities who were sidelined due to lack of skills.
They stated that the mine operators had committed, in their social contracts ahead of obtaining their mining leases, to prioritise employing people living close to the mine even if they did not have skills.
“We frequently see job openings in the mine, but very few of us are being hired,” said Makamoho Ramoholi from Liqhobong area, adding that some of the skilled villagers only got temporary positions.
For his part, Tsepo Mokotjo, who spoke on behalf of Liqhobong mine, said as they had not yet begun commercial operations. He, however, stated that developmental plans were in place for the host communities.
Mr Mokotjo also acknowledged “communication gaps” between the mine and the community, which he said were being addressed.
“I want to assure that your concerns are being noted and will be addressed. Gradually we will tackle them until we are done,” Mr Mokotjo said.
On behalf of Storm Mountain Diamonds, Corporate Chief Executive Officer Mohale Ralikariki said most of the grievances raised by the community were being addressed following the establishment of a community liaising committee.
He indicated that the mine had to date employed 173 people from the surrounding areas. The only challenge, Mr Ralikariki said, was that the same host communities “connived” with some people from afar in vouching that they are from the area.
“We have also dully noted that our compensation policy does not sit well with the people, and we are currently working on reviewing it, and we will announce when that process has been completed,” he said.
For his part, Mr Sello noted that both host communities were mostly unhappy because of the mine operators’ failure or delays in fulfilling their promise to develop the host communities.
The minister told the operators to make good on their promises when they signed their mining lease agreements.
He also stressed the importance of dialogue between mine and the community for harmonious relations to be fostered. If fully functional, said Mr Sello, community liaising committees could play an important role in that regard.
He promised to make follow up visits to the mining areas to assess the progress made, failing which tougher measures would be taken against those found in the wrong.