Villagers, mine meeting almost turns rowdy

Villagers, mine meeting almost turns rowdy

MOKHOTLONG – A dispute between Letšeng Diamond and residents of villages around its mine in Mokhotlong nearly turned violent last Thursday, thepost heard this week. Angry villagers are alleged to have almost assaulted two company officials who wanted to take back two way radios the mine had given to them as part of a safety protocol.

In 2012 the mine gave the radios to some villagers to communicate in case of an emergency at a slime dam close to the villages.
The mine said this was a standard precautionary measure and not an admission that the dam was a danger to the villagers.
The dam, the mine has insisted, is maintained and periodically assessed by internationally accredited engineering companies.
The radios and the sirens given to the villagers were part of a safety protocol, the mine says.

But when they wanted to reclaim some of the radios on Thursday the villagers were furious. It took the intervention of elders to restrain the angry villagers, according to witnesses.  The staff only managed to collect one charger.
In a statement last night Letšeng told thepost that its employees were not there to demand the radio stations.
The allegation that there was any altercation with the villagers is false and unfounded, the mine said.
“Letšeng’s staff would never behave in such a shameful manner,” Letšeng said.

“The fact of the matter is that a cordial attempt to retrieve two-way radios owned by Letšeng from certain residents of Patising, Maloraneng and Ha Seema was unsuccessful,” Letšeng said. “The intention was to work with the recognised local authorities and to re-allocate the radios to other residents. The overriding objective of this exercise was to ensure the highest safety protocols are in place at all times.”
It said this reflects the company’s commitment to communities in which it operates.

The mine is already in a legal battle with seven villagers from Patising, Maloraneng, Ha-Seema and Pae-la-Itlhatsoa.
The villagers have sued the mine for M1 million for allegedly refusing to pay them for “guarding” the slaim dam.
The villagers want the mine to pay each of them M2 500 per month for work done from November 2012. They also want the mine to pay interest of 18.5 percent per annum calculated 14 days from the date of judgement to the date of payment.
The seven plaintiffs are village chief Lentsoete Moahi, ’Mamoalosi Ntsiki, Sephapo Moletsane, ’Mapontšo Lematla, Ntaoleng Mporo, ’Malulang Lematla and ’Marethabile Motokoa.

They are supported by Maluti Community Development Forum, a local lobby group, which is also a plaintiff in the case.
After the alleged fracas on Thursday the villagers asked lawyer Advocate Thabo Lerotholi to intervene. On Tuesday, Lerotholi wrote to Letšeng management warning the company that it risked being in contempt of court.

“We are further informed that (your staff was) specifically targeting the families of the Plaintiffs against the Defendants,” Lerotholi said.
“This is a serious violation of court rules and practice, including gross violation of human rights in terms of our Constitution, and consequently a serious disrespect to the Rule of Law by your entity in this country,” he said.

“If your office feels there is in any way that it feels aggrieved, it is appraised to approach the courts of law or seek advice from your Attorneys of record, and they are hereby copied together with relevant authority.”
In their court papers the villagers claim that in October 2012 their representatives had a meeting with mine officials to discuss the possible danger of the slime dam to their villages.

They say during that meeting, held in Mokhotlong, the officials informed them that the four villages of Patising, Maloraneng, Ha-Seema and Pae-la-Itlhatsoa could be washed away if the dam bursts. The mine’s representatives allegedly then gave the villagers eight two-way radios and four sirens to use in the event of a disaster.

The villagers say it was verbally agreed that those who had the radios would get a monthly allowance.
The mine, according to the court papers, was to determine the amount for each one of them. The villagers however say the mine has not paid them since November 2012.

The mine is renowned for producing four large white diamonds namely the 603ct Letšeng Promise recovered in 2006, the 550ct Letšeng Star recovered in 2011, the 493ct Letšeng Legacy recovered in 2007 and the 478ct Light of Letšeng recovered in 2008.
Gem Diamonds Limited acquired the mine in October 2006 and owns 70 percent of shares while the Government of Lesotho holds the remaining 30 percent.

Staff Reporter

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