Villagers, mining firm smoke peace pipe

Villagers, mining firm smoke peace pipe

BUTHA-BUTHE – TWO mining companies based in Kao and the local community last week smoked the peace pipe ending a stand-off that had threatened to bring mining operations in the area to a halt.
The community of Kao and surrounding villages signed an agreement with Liqhobong Mining Development Company (LMDC) and Storm Mountain Diamond (SMD) last Wednesday.

The agreement came after angry villagers barricaded the road leading to the mine in a bid to force the mine bosses to the negotiation table.

The community has for the past five years been fighting mining companies accusing them of destroying the environment and at the same time doing little to uplift their lives. The villagers accused the mines of reneging on their promise to repair the gravel roads and build bridges to connect villages.

They also accused the mines of polluting their water sources. The villagers wanted the mines to compensate them by engaging in communal development projects such as building roads.

The two mines have now agreed to build a road to connect villages in Kao and neighbouring areas.

They have also agreed to build three bridges across the Kao and Kaonyana Rivers to link up with other smaller villages.

The agreement was signed in the presence of a Ministry of Public Works representative, Leketa Makha.

Kao Chief Lisebo Mokone accused the government of neglecting their needs.
“We don’t need the ministry or government to assist in building these roads and crossings because they did not show interest at first,” Mokone said.

“What we want now is the mines to construct the road as a way of giving back to the community. We have to benefit from these mines.”

She said “the road was still usable until the mines started using it.”
Makha told the villagers to exercise patience adding the delay was because the government had “hired a construction company that will not use machinery but hire villagers for construction”.

“If we had hired machinery we could have taken only three months to complete the road but we realized there was need to alleviate poverty in the country by way of providing temporary jobs in road construction,” he said.

“People have to be patient and allow the construction company to do its job.”
A community representative, ’Maseaka Lekhela, accused Storm Mountain Diamond of breaking its promise to maintain the road.

Lekhela said instead of building the main road that is accessible to all villagers, Storm Mountain Diamond had built its own road.

“We as villagers decided to barricade the road with stones to stop every car from moving irrespective of whether it was a taxi ferrying passengers to nearby villages or mine cars,” Lekhela said.

“This was meant to display how important the road is to us,” she said.
Storm Mountain Diamond CEO, Andrew Hobkirk, said the company had signed a contract pledging to improve the livelihoods of the community.

“We did not agree to fix three crossings but I said I will help where help is needed in constructing the road from Kao to Tlaeng,” Hobkirk said.

“This roads needs cooperation, together we can (do so much). As much as we need the road, we need the Ministry of Public Works to assist,” he said.

Storm Mountain Diamond Corporate CEO, Mohale Ralikariki, said there is no written contract or agreement that states what the mine has pledged to do.

“My office was informed that the villagers want the road in good condition, we did not refuse (to help) but we were waiting for road construction procedures to be completed by the Ministry of Public Works because we couldn’t tamper with the road the ministry was working on,” he said.

Under the agreement, Liqhobong Mining Development Company (LMDC) will assist in maintaining the critical areas on the road between Kao and Ha-Lejone.

Storm Mountain Diamond will continue to assist with the maintenance of the road from Kao to Tlaeng and it will assist the LMDC with equipment to repair the crossings.
The agreement was signed by the LMDC, the SMD and the community representative.

Staff Reporter

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