Trouble in paradise

Trouble in paradise

MASERU – FOR years the communities around villagers around Kolo Mine in Mafeteng have viewed the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), an ecumenical lobby group, as an ombudsman of sorts. They had embraced the TRC as a mediator in their scuffles with Kolo Diamond Mine.
The TRC took up that role with vim, lobbying the community to defend their rights against the mine and demand better compensation for their fields and grazing lands.
And in the beginning it looked like the TRC’s work was paying dividends.

Armed with the ‘education’ from the TRC, the villagers piled pressure on the mine.
Relations soured and the mine bore the brunt of negative press.
That however changed last week when the community turned against the TRC.

After years of lobbying the community to demand more from the mine, the TRC now finds itself accused of pushing its own agenda.
The community now says the TRC has been brewing trouble between them and the mine in Mafeteng.
The tiff comes as Kolo Mine is preparing to go into full commercial production.

The mine is now in the care and maintenance phase during which it will be mobilising resources to fund full-scale production as well as relocate and compensate communities affected by its operations. It will also buy a new plant and enhance the water and electricity supply. Roads will also be constructed.
An Environmental Impact Assessment is being conducted to understand how the mine’s operations will affect the environment and the community.
Historically, this is the time when the TRC wants to be heavily involved in the negotiations between the mine and the community. The TRC believes that it plays a crucial role in educating poor communities to defend their rights against big corporates, especially those in the extractive industry.

But as became apparent at a public gathering last Wednesday, the TRC seems to have rubbed the Kolo community the wrong way.
The mine was using the gathering to inform the community about the progress it has made thus far and the next phase of the mining operations.
Yet it soon turned into a platform for the community to vent its displeasure at the TRC, which was represented at the meeting.
Mamahlape Hlapane, chairperson of the community committee, told the gathering that they were tired of the TRC’s interference.
Hlapane accused the organisation of “sowing confusion”.

She told thepost this week that her committee wants nothing to do with TRC officials who she said have been “trying to instigate the community against the mine”.
“We are wiser as a community now. We know that they are not fighting for us but their own interests,” Hlapane said.
She said their main problem is that the TRC wants to influence the selection of the committee chairperson.

“They want the community to directly elect a chairperson of the committee against the regulations which clearly state that the chairperson, the secretary and the treasurer are elected from a committee elected by the community. They have been feeding the community wrong information.”
“What I have noticed is that the TRC thinks we are an ignorant lot. They don’t know that we know the laws and regulations. We know what is happening.”
Hlapane accused the lobby group of trying to turn the community against their chief.

“They have been trying to cause confusion for us. That is why we are saying we are no longer interested in their help.”
“The community is clear that it is capable of dealing directly with the mine without the help of the TRC. But, for some reason, the TRC thinks it can force its way into our affairs and influence how we should interact with the mine. That is what we are resisting.”

“That is the same thing I told the gathering last week. TRC officials were present so they know where we stand regarding their interference.
Rorisang Mahlo, a mines ministry public relations officer, said the Kolo community’s stance “shows that some communities around mines want to control their dialogue with companies operating in their areas.”

“What’s happening in Kolo should awaken other communities that are still under the influence of such organisations that come in the name of human rights but are bent on causing trouble that affects business and lives of the people in communities around them,” Mahlo said.
“It is high time that such organisations stop what they are doing. But if they want to continue they should know that communities will eventually see their ulterior motives.”
“Experience has shown that the best interaction between the mines and the community is a direct one that does not involve intermediaries.”

Hlalele Hlalele, TRC’s social justice and socioeconomic rights officer, said he did not want to respond directly to Hlapane “because our role is to listen to communities”.
Hlalele said he suspects the bone of contention could be how some consultations were handled.
He said there was a disagreement on how some graves at the mine should be relocated.

“The families involved thought that the reburial should be discussed with the families while the committee felt that it should handle the matter as the representative of the community,” Hlalele said. “There might have been some misunderstanding there but our role as TRC is to help communities so we have to listen to everyone.”
Last week Storm Mountain Diamond (SMD), owners of Kao Mine, also accused the TRC of causing trouble.

SMD chairperson Mitford Mundell told a press conference that the TRC is “provoking conflict, pitting stakeholders against each other”.
He said the organisation is “jeopardising social cohesion and important stakeholder relationships”.
Mundell was responding the TRC’s allegations that the mine was violating human rights and deny the communities fair compensation.
Mundell said the TRC was not interested in dialogue but chaos which they instigate by misleading the community with false information.

Staff Reporter

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