The curse of diamonds

The curse of diamonds

THABA-TSEKA – Diamonds may be said to be a woman’s best friend, but for widow ’Makatleho Mphatšoe and the nine orphans under her care, they are a curse. The 56-year-old faces abject poverty, thanks to a mining company prospecting diamonds in her village of Mohlanapeng.
She says Pure Lesotho Resources has taken over her field and fenced it, all without her consent and compensation.
She says there is no indication that the company will compensate her any time soon.

Every harvest time, the field used to give her family three bales of sorghum and two bales of beans, Mphatšoe says.
“How will I feed these children,” she says.
“I am stranded and I do not know how I will survive because that field produces a lot more than the other one I have,” Mphatsoe says.
“That field is my life. Most of my income comes from selling some of my crops after harvesting,” she says.

“Though I also sell firewood to make ends meet, without this field I am stuck. How will I buy clothes for the children and take care of their other needs?”

Mphatšoe is part of Mohlanapeng villagers who are up in arms against Pure Lesotho Resources for taking over their agricultural land without any form of consultation.

They told Mining Minister Keketso Sello two weeks ago at a public gathering that the company undermined their local authorities when it took the land without permission.

The fuming residents say they are dependent on subsistence farming hence their anger.
Fields form a critical part of their lives, they say.

Mphatšoe says she was emotionally hurt when her village chief and the local government council could not answer her questions.
“I could not do anything and decided to wait until they had an answer,” Mphatšoe says, adding the land has kept her going for years.

“I sold a kilogram of ’mela (fermented and dried sorghum for beer brewing) and beans for M15 and 20 kg of sorghum for M200,” Mphatšoe says.
She says all she wanted was for the mine to consult the rightful land owners and compensate them in a reasonable and transparent manner.
Over six fields have been fenced off and owners no longer have access to them.

’Mapuseletso Mphafi, one of the angry villagers, says she is concerned that now the mine has also fenced off the area along the Senqu River bank where shepherds used to take livestock for grazing in winter, especially sheep and lambs.

“This area is warm compared to the cattle posts where shepherds stay during the year except in winter,” Mphafi says. “My worry is what is going to happen with our livestock this coming winter,” she says. Mphafi says they also mine sand from the river and now that the land is fenced off they don’t know where they will get sand, not only for building but also for getting some income because they sell it as the community.

“The mine should be clear about how they are going to compensate us for these resources that we will no longer be able to access,” Mphafi says.
“We are wool and mohair producers and it should be very clear as to how our livestock will survive from now onward,” she says.
Mphafi also says they get grass for thatched roofing from the now fenced off land.

“The grass is already rare in most places. How are we going to maintain our houses?” Mphafi says.
The Councillor of Mohlanapeng Local Government, Majalle Majalle, says they were surprised as the council when the company started operating in the area.

Majalle says originally the mine was supposed to be at Ha-Makunyapane, some kilometres away.
“When we heard the rumour that the mine was going to be here we made inquiries trying to establish its truthfulness but we failed to get a solid response or any reliable information confirming these rumours,” Majalle says.

He says they only realised when the community’s fields were fenced off late last year that indeed there was going to be a mine in the area.
“We were confused because no one said anything to us as Mohlanapeng residents,” Majalle says.

“Even today we do not know why the mine is no longer going to be at Ha-Makunyapane. We did not even know what to say to these residents who were coming to us with complaints about their fields and other resources such as sand along the river bank,” he says.

He says they eventually found out that the Ministry of Mining had granted the mine a two year prospecting licence without saying anything to them.
“We are not pleased at all with the way the mine and the ministry approached this issue,” Majalle says.
“We should have been consulted like they consulted Makunyapane residents,” he says.

However, Majalle says they need the mine for the area’s economic development “but due process of applying for and acquiring the land must be followed”. “What we need from the mine is to follow proper procedure and be transparent with us,” Majalle says.
He pleaded with the Ministry of Mining to ensure that the mine does not cheat them when it comes to compensation and to work closely with the mine to ensure that whatever it says is what is on the ground.

“We are worried about these two years of prospecting because if there are no diamonds at all the investor will not be interested in this area in the first place,” Majalle says. “We are the ones who will suffer because our land will be patched and left with holes that we can’t do anything about,” he says.
“This is why we want the mine to follow proper procedures and come with clear strategies on how it is going to work with us.”

The chief of Mohlanapeng, Chieftainess ’Masebopeho Lerotholi, says they tried to get assistance from different government departments but in vain.
The chief also says they approached Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a human rights advocacy and research group, for assistance.
Minister Sello went to Mohlanapeng after the chief sought help from TRC.

“We did not know what to say to the villagers when they came seeking answers,” Lerotholi says.
She says efforts were made to contact the mine and the mine was also asked to stop operations while they were trying to get information about what was happening but the mine continued.

“If the mine is not ready to follow proper procedures they should go back and remove their machinery from our land,” the chief says.
“They will come when they are ready to consult and work with us,” she says.
Former Thaba-Tseka MP, ’Mathabo Moremoholo, says she knew about the mine during her term and “it is surprising that the residents of Mohlanapeng do not know about it”.

“However, since it looks like there has been a misunderstanding or miscommunication between the mine and the residents, these parties must to go back, sit down and iron things out for the benefit of the residents,” Moremoholo says.
She says the residents of Mohlanapeng are poor and hungry and this development will create jobs and improve their livelihoods.
The current MP ’Mamoipone Senauoane says she was not aware about the mine and she only found out when people started complaining about their fields.

In the quest to understand what was happening Senauoane says they approached one of the field owners and found that she had been compensated.
“We called that person to try and find out how she made a deal with the mine and to our shock we discovered that the mine paid that person only M12 000 for two fields,” Senauoane says.

She says at the time of the meeting the person said there was only M1000 left.
“She did not know if the money was for a month, a year, a lifetime and we also don’t know,” the chief says.

“But we do know that land is a precious commodity that these people would still benefit from in the next 100 years,” she says.
Chief Karabo Lerotholi, from the principal chief’s office, says he was ashamed of the way politicians have turned the nation against each other.
He says it is unfortunate that the compensated individual accepted the money without understanding the terms and conditions that were attached to that money.

He pleaded with the mine to engage effectively with villagers and all relevant stakeholders for the development and benefit of Basotho.
Director of Pure Lesotho Resources, Lefa Monaheng, says the company followed procedures.
Monaheng says the company has compensated the owners of the affected fields and if there are those who have not been compensated “they are yet to be compensated”.

He says the company has entered into an agreement with tide owners of two fields not six as the villagers claim.
“To my knowledge two people have been compensated and now that it appears that only one has been compensated it shows that we should go and investigate what happened to the money,” Monaheng says.

He says the money was just for convenience and more will follow.
“We will compensate people in alignment with the national compensation policy. If it is not available we will adopt the world’s best practices because at the end of the day we want to work in harmony with residents,” Monaheng says.

He says the company “could not stop operations because the heavy machinery that we use is hired and costly as we pay hourly ranging from M600 to M1200”.

He says stopping operations and coming back might take the mine two years to work in the area again because “investors are sensitive people who do not like disputes”.

“From now onwards the mine will try by all means to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are engaged thoroughly,” Monaheng says.
Mining Minister Keketso Sello says the mining policy needs to be reviewed especially with regards to shareholding.
He urges the concerned stakeholders to work together.

“However, sometimes we as residents have expectations which at times are beyond the mines’ capacity and we should be mindful of that,” Sello says.
“We need more mines for the development of the country and economic growth,” he says.
“If we treat investors harshly they will go. After all there are a lot of countries looking for these investments.”

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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