‘Diamond curse’ haunts Kolo

‘Diamond curse’ haunts Kolo

MAFETENG – Diamonds have become a curse for an area where people are impoverished 10 years after a mining firm moved in.
For residents of Kolo Ha-Petlane, in Mafeteng district, the past decade has been a life of struggle as they battle to force the government and a company mining diamonds in the area to take care of their concerns.

The residents said life has never been the same since 2006 when heavy machinery started blasting to dig up diamonds in the village.
Far from improving their lives, diamond mining has resulted in living standards deteriorating.
Some houses are developing cracks because of the blasting at the mine and residents fear a disaster is waiting to happen.
Some houses are a few metres from the mine.

Mining Minister Keketso Sello visited the village last week and residents did not mince their words.
“Do not imitate many of your predecessors who felt pity for the miners and turned their backs on us,” a villager said.
Sello was in the village to hear grievances against the mining firms and to give the management of the mine a chance to address the community.
’Mamokoena Bulane’s two houses, which have cracks so wide that a human fist can pass through, highlight the dire situation.
They want the government to intervene fairly “instead of playing a public relations role for the mining companies”, as one villager put it.
At least 15 houses near the mine have developed cracks.

The residents recall times when the village had water in abundance as there were several springs. The wells have since dried up.
“The mine has tampered with the fountains of our waters and now the village is thirsty,” one of the men said.
“The government is unresponsive to our plight and the companies have turned a blind eye to our need for water,” he said.
The area was first mined for diamonds in 1993 by locals who had been retrenched from South African mines in great numbers.
Then, they were mining illegally and therefore were not using heavy machinery, often relying on shovels and picks.

By 2001 the government wanted to regularise all mining activities countrywide and pushed stringent laws for the acquisition of permits and licences.
In 2006 big companies with heavy machinery started arriving in Kolo.
They promised the locals jobs and compensation for resettling them, removal of graves and tampering with the environment.
Despite these promises, life has turned bitter for locals.
The first company to arrive was Angel Diamonds (Pty) Ltd, which was in a joint venture with a Johannesburg listed company, Thebex.
Angel Diamonds was liquidated in 2012 and a new company Reskol Diamonds took over the operations.
Reskol is still operating in the area.

The villagers have battled to get compensation for their cracked houses and water losses.
Reskol’s response has always been that the damage was caused by its predecessors and therefore cannot take any blame.
Chairperson of village’s mine committee, ’Mamahlape Hlapane, said it is worrying that the companies leave after a very short time without having solved the problems they caused the villagers.

“People located near the mine sometimes have ear problems and others lose sight due to noise and dust,” Hlapane said.
She said the mine agreed to compensate owners of seven houses affected by mining activities but the promise has remained a pie in the sky.
“We also discussed water issues with them and they promised to bring tanks for the community but we are still struggling to get drinking water,” she added.

Tšitso Namane of Sekameng Kolo said the mine should impart mining skills to local youths so that when the firm leaves at least locals can take over.
“We do not benefit from the mine at all,” Namane said. Reskol CEO Mike Reynolds said the mine has no option but to blast because “rock kimberlite is very hard to crack and even breaks machinery”.

Reynolds maintained that the firm was not responsible for the cracked houses because its predecessors were responsible for the destruction.
On water provision in the village he said the mine is not responsible for the drying wells.

“We haven’t even sold one diamond as they are stored at a safe place in Maseru waiting for some paperwork from the government,” Reynolds said.
Sello said “owning a mining company is not easy” so the community should come together and join hands with the mine for the benefit of both.
“Sit down and try to settle your issues,” Sello said. “Teach the community on how to mine so that they help you with those skills and that will also create jobs for them,” he said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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