The ‘diamond curse’

The ‘diamond curse’

Villagers, Kao Mine in fierce battle of wills……….

BUTHA-BUTHE – KAO may boast of having the largest diamond bearing pipeline in Lesotho, but the precious stones have come to be a source of conflict between a mine and some villagers living close by. Ha-Shishila is one such village where diamonds have raptured the community.
The mining firm in the area has been accused of bringing conflict and disaster amid charges that it has failed to live up to its promises.
The mine, Storm Mountain Diamond Mine, insists its operations are above board, saying it has gone out of its way to empower the community.
thepost travelled to the area, nestled on the slope of Katiba-ea-Tšoene Mountain in Kao.

Ha-Shishila has known no peace since mining operations began there less than a decade ago.
Villagers are turning against each other. Some say the mine has come as a blessing to the impoverished area but others are vehement in their disdain of the mining firm.
Those who back the mine say the project has the potential to enhance economic development and increase employment opportunities in the community.

Others are taking a less favourable view of the mine’s operations, and accuse fellow villagers who support the mining company of being greased because they are “the understanding ones”.
The mine has initiated a programme to alleviate poverty in the community and it is this effort, surprisingly, that has deepened divisions amongst villagers.
Villagers and some traditional leaders supporting the mine deny they are enjoying special perks as individuals at the expense of wider community interests.
So deep is the rift that the local traditional leader now fears for her life.

Chieftainess ’Malisebo Mokone, the Ha-Shishila chief, told people at a recent public gathering that some of her subjects are baying for her blood for her alleged soft spot for Kao Mine.
Mokone told thepost the claims are lies as she is not receiving any personal benefits from the mine.

“I am being insulted by certain individuals who want to use me to push their own agendas. I will not forsake my people and do as a few wish,” said Mokone.
“I am not getting any personal benefits from this mine. If I was being accused of this during the time when I worked with other four mines that I worked with, I would maybe agree because on Christmas the former mine operators used to buy me groceries but this one does not do anything of that sort,” said Mokone.

Tseko Ratiea, chairperson of the community’s coordinating body, is one of those against Mokone, but said, just like the Chieftainess, he is also living in fear.
“I have been accused of insulting the Chieftainess (Mokone), which I did not do. I have lost my job at the mine because it was said that I was responsible for instigating violence back in February that resulted in the death of one man and two injuries,” Ratiea said.

He said “the chosen few” that seem to be benefitting from the mine do not want other villagers to voice their concerns.
Other residents of Ha-Shishila are angry and frustrated.
They narrated to thepost how the mine has burdened them with problems they did not experience before, leaving them “a bunch of psychologically, emotionally and physically exhausted beings”.
Some residents argue that their woes outweigh developments the mine has brought to the village.

But Kao Mine has received backing from the Chieftainess of Ha-Shishila, Chieftainess Mokone, who wields considerable influence in the community.
Her input is critical in the battle of perceptions about the role of the mine.
The Chieftainess has nothing but full praises for Storm Mountain Diamond Mine.

“To be honest this mine has brought some changes in our lives, there are positive initiatives it has brought into our lives,” Mokone, Chieftainess of Ha-Shishila, said.
Mokone indicated that the mine has built a kindergarten and hired two employees, paying them salaries above M1 000 per month each, a princely figure in the impoverished area.
Mokone said the mine provides transport services to the villagers.

“They release their ambulances to take people to the hospital, some pregnant women even give birth in there,” she said.
“Before we joined Naledi Funeral Scheme the mine used to fetch the deceased members of these village from all over, even in South Africa,” she said, also pointing to the firm’s assistance to five children whose mother died while giving birth in the mine’s ambulance on her way to the hospital as a sign of its goodwill.
The hospital is 30km away.

Another villager, ’Manalane Molefi, who is the deputy community chairperson of the committee that coordinates dialogue between the mine and the community, seems content with the mine’s contribution to the community. “The mine built three classrooms for Shishila Primary School and is paying for a volunteer teacher,” Molefi said.
Molefi said the mine is building “VIP toilets” for the residents of Ha-Shishila.

“These toilets were supposed to be constructed in 2010 when the government, through the Ministry of Local Government, had a project where they were building toilets for villages. The mine stopped the ministry from building toilets for us and said it will construct them for us,” Molefi said.
Molefi, however, said the firm has failed to deliver on its promise to engage the community “in lengthy discussions” over sticking issues.

“Last year the mine told us that they would construct the toilets but one per four households. We were appalled, where has that ever happened?” Molefi said.
They went back to the negotiating table and the “mine agreed to build a VIP toilet for every household hence the ongoing construction”.
The mine also embarked on a chicken project to help ease poverty by encouraging locals to be entrepreneurial and create jobs.

“Even today, we are still waiting for a handover ceremony. The mine said the project is ours but nothing shows that it is for the community. They control the funds of the project and villagers do not benefit from the project,” he said.

The project, which started in 2015, is no longer functional, there are no chickens and volunteers have long ceased to work.
Molefi said the project collapsed because the 1 000 chickens that were used to kick-start the project were sold as they were no longer laying eggs.
“We thought the mine would put in new stock but that did not happen,” said Molefi.

’Mampe Shishila, who used to volunteer at the chicken project, said she was there for six months and was paid a paltry M120 after three months.
The money was just explained as “means to buy soap”.

“We were told that the project was ours and we worked hard with the hope that eventually we would reap rewards,” Shishila said.
She said after their hard work the mine failed to pay for all the eggs that it took from the project.
“The chairperson of the project failed to account for the money that we raised from selling to individuals, schools and Omega stokvels,” she said.
She added that money from the sold chickens was not accounted for.

“We have been working for nothing. We are parents and we have other people who depend on us. We cannot afford to be treated like this,” she said.
’Malaete ’Maki, a 63-year-old widow raising a grandchild alone, was one of the volunteers at the chicken project.
She looks dirty and hungry.

“Can they please give us our money, the money that we worked for?” ’Maki said.
Molefi said the committee tried talking to Kao Mine about the chicken project but all was in vain.
“The mine took eggs from the farm for one month without paying. When we made enquiries we were told that the mine had paid M105 410. This was shocking to us because we had expected M228 000 from the mine for eggs,” Molefi said.

It was also discovered that M90 000 was borrowed by one of the firm’s managers who, when quizzed about the funds, claimed that the money was used to buy chicken feed.
“The project was never for the community, we did not have a say in that project,” Molefi said.
Villagers are also frustrated by the manner in which the mine is handling compensations for their land and other assets.
’Maki is not consolable when talking about the compensation issue after her fields were turned into minefields.

“The mine took my fields and they have been giving me peanuts. They would give me M300, M400 and only this year I was given M7 000,” said ’Maki.
Paul Sekepe, a 75-year-old, said his shop was affected by a mini flood, “caused by mishandling of the building of a bridge” by the firm.
“They made a mini bridge but they used inadequate corrugated irons but most of all they chose the wrong place to do so,” Sekepe said.
“When I voiced my concerns I was told I did not know what I was talking about,” he said.

He said a month later it rained and the water flooded his shop.
“I had to be rescued, had it not been for that someone I would have died. I watched my stock and freezers float away,” he said.
He said with the assistance of Chieftainess Mokone, he approached the mine about the damage but things did not go well.
“They built my shop but took almost a year to complete it.

They refused to pay for equipment lost due to the flood,” he said.
“Out of the M54 000 damage incurred they only offered me M6 000 for stock. I took it because I was desperate but my store will never go back to where it was before the flood,” said a teary Sekepe.

“I can never get employed anywhere. I can’t even stay at home and enjoy my old age. I am forced to work because there are those that depend on me,” he said.
’Maphakiso Khama left her home in February after the road that the mine built burst due to heavy rains and flooded her village, Sekeketeng, affecting four households.
“I was woken by floods, the water was above my waist. I screamed for help but no one was able to come through for me because the water flooded the road to my place,” Khama said.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said.

She said the chairperson of the coordinating committee only visited her the following morning.
“The mine only came after nine. We would have died in that house with my daughter and grandchild,” said Khama.
The firm moved her family to one of its houses in Hloahloeng.

“When we were moved we were told that the mine would build houses for us within a short period of time but even today we are still stuck in these houses where I cannot even plant vegetables for sale or brew alcohol for sale,” she said.
She said the firm has told them that it will build houses for them at Porenki or give them money.

“I feel stranded. I cannot go to Porenki because it will basically be taking me further from basic services like the clinic which is already (4km) away.”
She added that Porenki is close to the cattle posts and she is afraid that the shepherds would come at night and harm her as is the case with lonely women living near cattle posts.
She mentioned that for her loss she was given M8000.

“Initially, the mine told us that we would get M5000 for the damage but later told us that we would get M7000 and we were given M8000,” she said.
She stated that late last year the road burst because of the pressure of water after heavy rains and her 12 year old daughter nearly drowned.
“If it was not for one of my neighbours my daughter would have died. The mine did not even come to see my daughter even though I informed them of the incident,” she said, bitterness showing in her voice.

Malebo Moetsuoa, a resident of the nearby village of Ha-Lephatšoe, accused the firm of disrespecting locals.
“Our fields have been affected, our wells and pastures were affected by the mine when installing electricity but we don’t hear anything about compensating for the damage,” Moetsuoa said.
He said what is even more infuriating is that electricity is only at the mine while the community has to endure the dark.
’Mamoeketsi Lebona, another resident of Ha-Lephatšoe, accused the miner of building a water tank on her land without her consent.
“The mine offered me M5000 as compensation and I did not take it. I felt cheated,” Lebona said.

“I cannot build a house on my land and now I am staying at my brother’s in-law’s place yet I have my own land where I had my own house,” she said.
Storm Mountain Diamond Mine boss Mohale Ralikariki refuted accusations of insensitivity to the communities of Kao.
Ralikariki told thepost that the mine has worked “with all honesty” with the villagers but some of them later chose to join forces with Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) to derail the mine’s corporate social responsibility projects.

Ralikariki said in the 2013/14 financial year, the Ministry of Local Government pledged to build VIP toilets for the villagers after receiving donations from its partners.
The toilets project however did not cover villages adjacent to the mine.
“Villagers then claimed that it is because the mine would build for them, even though it was never the mine’s commitment,” Ralikariki said.
He explained that the mine then decided to do the project for the people as it was a need.

The mine engaged the Department of Rural Water Supply in September 2017 to do the job.
“We made a request to get the list of all households so that we would know how many toilets we would need to build,” he said.
The list was delayed and when it came some households were excluded, sparking rumours about communal toilets.
“We have never suggested or even thought about communal toilets. Who would use those in this era with a plethora of diseases?”
The list was sent back so that all households would be included.

“The new list only came through in December and due to the Christmas holidays the Rural Water Supply would not attend to it, it would only get attention after the holidays in January,” he said.
The Rural Water Supply issued out designs which were also disputed as some said they were too small and the size had to be readjusted.
The construction of the toilets has started and 20 individuals were hired on six months contracts.
“This was turned into another stumbling block as it was argued that the project should have hired more people and those six months contracts should have been for a month to give others a chance,” he said.

“This could have been risky for the project as it was going to increase costs because every month we would have to train new people leading to a delay,” Ralikariki said.
He stated that even though the 2017/2018 committee “did everything to sabotage the project” the firm continued with the project despite the tense environment.
In relation to the chicken project, Ralikariki said the Ministry of Agriculture and the Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) were engaged to build a sustainable project that would benefit the entire community.

“The villagers sabotaged that project too,” Ralikariki said.
He said although rigorous efforts were taken to establish a community trust with TRC for the sustainability of the project, the trust was never established due to failure to reach an agreement with the TRC even though talks took over a year.

Instead of coming to the table, the TRC frustrated the villagers and told them that the project was dividing residents as it employed only 16 people.
“As a result, the community fought those who were working at the project,” Ralikariki said.
When the mine realised that an amicable solution to the farm disputes was out of sight, it decided to settle its bill, said Ralikariki.

“Records were reconciled and we paid the project a bit over M105 000 into the community account,” he said.
Ralikariki indicated that it seems that “those who have been empowered by the TRC have been too empowered that they have dis-empowered chiefs in the area and are feared that no chief can stand against them”. “As a result, projects tend to stall as this group of individuals misinforms residents and pushes its own agendas,” he said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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