Lesotho must never be “Guptarised”

Lesotho must never be “Guptarised”

The headline in the Daily Maverick went “amaBhungane & Scorpio # GuptaLeaks: How family hijacked (and then lost) a Lesotho diamond mine”.
I thought to myself, “This can’t be good. Gupta and Lesotho in one sentence. We are doomed”.
The name “Gupta” has come to symbolise state capture and the looting of state resources on a large and unprecedented scale. “Please, not in Lesotho as well”, I kept saying to myself. I was very afraid.
I was right. This story by amaBhungane, Mnn Centre for Investigative Journalism and Scorpio on 1 December 2017 makes for some very depressing reading.

I had hoped never again to hear the name “Guptas” being mentioned with reference to Lesotho.
In August 2014, Atul Gupta was appointed a special advisor to Government. He was also given a Lesotho diplomatic passport. The Government also granted diplomatic passports to two other Gupta associates (including Salim Essa you shall read more about later).
This was justified on the basis that these individuals had influence in many countries — their extensive networks would be used to scout for investments for Lesotho.

But when former Prime Minister Mosisili took over government after the February 2015 elections, he told them to “fotsek” out of the country. He revoked their diplomatic passports and terminated their services. They were too controversial.
A laudable move by the Former Prime Minister because these people have proven themselves to be looters than investors i.e. if files in the #GuptaLeaks are to be believed.

The insinuation in the article I am referencing, could not be clearer — The Guptas attempted to seize the Mothae diamond mine aided by our country’s political elite. Yes, aided by our country’s political elite. Shame on them.

The article claims that on 29 January 2015, the former Minister of Mining, Tlali Khasu, signed a shareholder’s agreement with Tequesta Group, Salim Essa’s company. This is a Gupta associated company. Eighty percent (80 percent) of Tequesta Group Lesotho would be owned by Tequesta Group and the Government of Lesotho would own the remaining 20 percent.

Immediately after the signing of the shareholder’s agreement, Minister Khasu is said to have signed a 10-year mining lease (number 0013/ML/2015) which gave mining rights to Mothae diamond mine to Tequesta Group Lesotho.
The issue here, is that at the time, this mining right still belonged to Lucara Diamonds a Canadian diamond company.

Some three months before (23 October 2014), the Minister had written to Lucara Diamonds to inform them that, he intended to apply a provision in the Mines and Minerals Act to cancel the mineral concession they had been granted. This was ostensibly because Lucara had stopped operations.
At the same time, he wrote to Tequesta Group, “I am pleased to inform you that the Government of Lesotho is in the process of re-acquiring the mining lease of the above-mentioned mine, the mine will be on offer to you as soon as the Government re-acquires it”.

The article points out three instances why this was problematic.
First, in terms of section 41 of Lesotho’s mining legislation, Lucara would have 12 months to find a buyer for its 70 percent stake in Mothae. Only if it failed to find a buyer, would the rights revert to the government.

This however, does not seem to have been the case because only 3 months elapsed between the time the Minister wrote to Lucara and the time Tequesta Lesotho took receipt of the lease for Mothae Diamond Mine.
Secondly, the job of assessing applications for new mining rights is meant to be done by Lesotho’s mining board and not the Minister.

According to the article, the Mining Board denies being party to the decision to grant Tequesta the mining licence. So, where did the Minister get the authority to issue the lease?
Thirdly, a draft of the licence found in the #GuptaLeaks suggests that the deal Tequesta offered was a complete rip off to you and me. They offered a sales tax of between four and eight percent and rental of $87,000 per year, only payable once the company showed a profit.
A freaking lousy deal for Basotho if you ask me. But then again, what do I know.

To digress, I am pissed off by Basotho who think Lesotho is theirs to sell. It’s not! Damn it! So, put down the signs “Lesotho, Basotho and their resources for sale to the highest bidder” that you hold up when you occupy big positions in our Government.
This in my opinion, is effectively what this “$87,000 a year rental agreement only payable once the company showed a profit” deal signalled. Utter nonsense!

There is no justification for a Mosotho to help foreigners loot our assets. Such conduct, is treasonous. People who sell us out like that, belong in prison. Going back to the article, it is also alleged that documents filed with Lesotho’s ministry of trade and industry show that Tequesta Group Lesotho was registered to an office linked to Potlako Thabane (The Prime Minister’s son) at the Thetsane Office Park. His email address is also listed under Tequesta’s contact details.

According to the article, Potlako Thabane admitted that Tequesta had approached him to be part of a diamond mining project. He could not however, remember the name of the mine involved. He denies that the deal ever materialised, and that he participated in it. He is reported to have said that as far as he is aware, Tequesta never received the mining rights.

When you consider the tactics used to capture South Africa (partnering up with family members of those who call the shots), you do not want any of this to be true. In fact, I pray that all this, is fake news. I pray its all made up.
Because if this is true, then we are “doomed!!”.

There is no way Lesotho could ever withstand a full-on Gupta onslaught. This family is ruthless. They empty the kitty and leave nothing for the poor and service delivery. That South Africa is now on the brink of broke, has a lot to do with their work.
The Guptas you see, don’t faff around. They go for the jugular. They take no prisoners. They go straight to the top.
Evidence contained in the # GuptaLeaks show how they captured South Africa’s Number 1 by inter alia co-opting his family. With Number 1 captured and in their pocket, they were unstoppable. They went on to influence appointments in the cabinet and in key state institutions so that they could pillage state resources unencumbered.

We don’t need a rehash of the South African story here. We don’t! This family is dangerous. We must avoid them like a bad rash.
They have managed to destroy South Africa despite its strong opposition, independent judiciary, free and independent media etc. Had it not been for the pushback provided by these institutions, the situation in South Africa would be a lot worse.
Thankfully though, South Africans are now vigilant and have started to expose the Guptas and their stooges. So, there is hope of a recovery especially once President Zuma leaves office.

But in our case, I am not so optimistic. Most of us are not as moved by the revelations that the Guptas hijacked then lost a diamond mine in our country. We are not angered by this. We are indifferent. We are not bothered. This is just news like any other news.
But why? Because we are pathetic. We love individual leaders and we don’t give a “s***” about Lesotho.
We forget that the Gupta modus operandi thus far, has not been to hijack and lose assets. Their modus operandi has been to hijack and to loot every cent there is.

So, unless there is sufficient public outrage at these allegations and there is a proper investigation into this matter, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when one day, the Minister of Finance tells us “There is nothing left in our kitty box. Its all gone to Dubai”.
The ANC turned a blind eye and looked away as their President was captured. When they eventually decided to speak up, it was too late. The damage was done. South Africa was on her knees. The Guptas had come, looted and looted and looted. Let’s avoid falling into a similar tragedy. Lets be loud and clear “We reject Guptarism in Lesotho”.

Poloko Khabele

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