Kao Mine, community rift continues – Lesotho Times

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Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE long-drawn battle between Storm Mountain Diamonds (SMD) which operates Kao Mine and its host communities recently intensified when the public accused the company of working against its commitment to improve their lives.

SMD is jointly owned by South African company, Namakwa Diamonds Limited (75 percent shareholding) and the government (25 percent shareholding).

During a recent meeting with representatives from the Ministry of Mining, the mine management and the Butha-Buthe police, rowdy community members took turns to lash out at the guests, accusing them of letting foreign investors exploit them.

What was supposed to be a community orientation meeting leading to the election of the community liaison committee with the mine turned into a jeering session as the villagers took turns to scorn the guests for failing to address their grievances.

Some of the community’s major grievances are failure by the mine to adequately compensate the family of a man who was shot and killed by Butha-Buthe police officers on 8 February this year during a protest by the villagers to demand that the mine delivers on its promises of improving their lives.

Terene Pitae died and two others, Mokete Mohlomi and Hlopheho Lebona were critically injured on 8 February 2018 at Kao Mine after violent clashes broke out between the police and villagers who were protesting against the alleged failure by the mine to honour its promises to compensate and relocate them from the areas affected by mining operations.

The community said the mine has failed to compensate some villagers whose property they claimed got destroyed during the mining operations.

The community is also disgruntled over what they call a low-standard gravelled road that links their villages with the Ha-Lejone tarred road an hour and half’s drive away.

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The road, the villagers said, has been nothing short of a nuisance which has caused floods due to its bad construction.

The villagers said two houses have since been flooded beyond repair with the road diverting the course of rain water towards family compounds.

One of the Ha Shishila villagers, ‘Maphakiso Khama, claimed that her homestead was submerged after the mine constructed a waterway that busted and directed rain water towards her houses.

In the event, Ms Khama said her houses and property were destroyed, her calf was killed and her plants were buried under the eroded soil.

“The mine dug the waterway despite of the committee’s warnings that our houses would be flooded,” Ms Khama said.

“The mine owners had the nerve to say that we have built at an awkward place. I have been staying there for over 20 years and none of this has ever happened during rainy seasons.”

Ms Khama said the mine only gave her compensation of M8000 which she claimed does not cover all the goods and infrastructure which she has lost in the flood.

In a different event in 2014, another villager, Paul Sekepe’s grocery store was washed away by rain water after the mine built a small culvert that got flooded during heavy rains and water was diverted towards the business.

Mr Sekepe said property and groceries worth M65 000 were destroyed and the mine only paid him M6000.

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“I only got M6000 out of the M65 000 worth of loss. The mine operators told me that I was running a “spaza” shop and that there was no way I could have lost that much. I had to take the M6000 because I had nothing else left. They did me injustice,” Mr Sekepe said.

Mr Sekepe who is aged 75 said he suffered a lot to get his store back up and running.

“It was very hard for me to get the shop running again. I suffered a lot and would go for days without eating. I survived on food handouts from people,” Mr Sekepe said.

The Motete legislator, Tumelo Lerafa, came out strong on the government and the SMD management for failing to intervene in the Kao community disgruntlements with the mine.

Mr Lerafa accused those in government for conniving with mines just so they can “fill up their bellies” while failing to address the public’s needs.

“Our governments are so unfortunate. They make decisions in their offices in Maseru and do not engage the communities. They want to fill their bellies without caring about what the people are going through,” Mr Lerafa Said.

Mr Lerafa said that the Kao community has become boisterous because no one seems to be willing to addresses their gripe with the mine.

“The community seems to have become unorderly because they have long standing grievances. They want the mine to deliver on its commitments that it made when they reach an agreement with the community that they would improve people’s lives. Only a few of such undertakings have been met and the people are growing impatient,” Mr Lerafa said.

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Mr Lerafa said the mine has failed the Kao people.

The SMD management has since denied all accusations levelled against its operations, declaring instead that the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) who have been advocating for the rights of the Kao community, was the one peddling the allegations

Addressing a media conference last month, SMD chairman Milford Mundell claimed the apparent problems the mine has with the community are non- existent and have been deliberately manufactured to cause conflict between the two parties.

Mr Mundell claimed that the real issues with Kao had nothing to do with the community but everything to do with some people who are trying to get their hands on the mine and that has resulted in money (bribes) exchanging hands in the process.

“Storm Mountain Diamonds (Pty) Ltd categorically denies all allegations made against it by the TRC in their press statement and as reported on by the SABC SMD regards the false statements and reporting to the media as irresponsible and reckless. SMD specifically denies any “gross violations of human rights” and “barbaric acts” perpetrated by it,” Mr Mundell said.

“SMD remains dismayed by the events of 8 February 2018, which led to the death of Terene Pitae and injuries to community members, Mokete Mohlomi and Hlopheho Lebona. SMD calls on the relevant regulatory body to launch an official inquiry to the events of that day. SMD has nothing to hide and will obviously lend all its support to such an inquiry,” Mr Mundell said.

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