Why mines are in turmoil

Why mines are in turmoil

MASERU – THE once cordial relations between Kao Mine and the communities around it have soured.
In recent months the peace, although always somewhat uneasy, has been shattered.
It its place now is chaos that threatens to boil over and hurt the mine’s prospects.
An investigation by thepost has pieced together the events and issues that could have strained the relations. At the core of the turmoil are several institutions and individuals that seem to have stock in the fight.

In some instances it is not clear what the individuals and institutions stand to benefit from the fiasco but there are strong indications that they are in the thick of things.
Some might not have instigated the trouble but the investigation paints a picture of them piling dry wood to the pyre. The role players are the mine, the community, several government ministers, lobby groups, individuals and the community committee.
Just who is to blame for the debacle depends on who you speak to. In a series of stories over the next few weeks thepost will unravel the genesis of the trouble and try to reveal the role played by the individuals and entities.#

Kao Mine sits in the middle of the villages of Ha-Shishila, Lihloahloeng, Sekeketeng, Nokeng, Tiping and Ha Lephatsoana. The mine is run by Storm Mountain Diamonds which is jointly owned by South Africa’s Namakwa Diamonds Limited and the Lesotho government.
Namakwa owns 75 percent while the government controls the remaining 25 percent.
Employing more than 600 people, and over 150 from adjacent villages, Kao Mine is the only company in an area where a majority live on less than US$1 a day, a United Nations’ standard measure of abject poverty.

The surrounding communities work the land and rear animals for survival.
So when Storm Mountain Diamonds took over in 2010 from KDM, which was liquidated, it was inevitable that the communities would expect to derive some benefits in development and employment.

But from the onset the ‘contract’ – usually referred as the social licence – between the mine and the communities was never clear on the guidelines and deadlines of what was to happen.
It is that lack of clarity that seems to have upended the tranquility that existed between the community and the mine.
The mine says some of the community’s demands were never within its mandate and therefore it could not have promised to meet them. The community says the mine is going back on its promises.

Along the way the chaos has attracted the notice of politicians and lobby groups that claim to be trying to mend the rift.
There is stark contrast on how the mine and the community interpret their contribution. The community sees them as saviours while the mine says they were making things worse by allegedly stoking the fires.

The new wave of trouble seems to have started back in 2017 as the 2016/17 community committee’s tenure was coming to an end. The committee acts like a liaison agent between the villagers and the mine.

The new committee was led by Tseko Ratia, a villager who at that time was working at the mine as an assistant engineer.
Ratia has since been fired for allegedly threatening colleagues and mine management but is appealing the decision.
Soon after coming into office the Ratia-led committee presented a list of demands to the mine. Among them was that the mine should review the hourly wage rate of casual workers from M8.50. Casual workers are those hired for temporary menial jobs at the mine.

The mine curved to pressure and pushed the rate to M12.50.
The other was that the mine should install more water taps in the village.
The committee also wanted the mine to speed up a review of its compensation scales for fields and grazing land affected by its operations. It also demanded that the mine build pit latrines.
The mine says it acceded to all those demands.

Ten additional water taps were installed but the committee is alleged to have complained about the quality of the taps and the installation of pipes.
New water taps were installed but were vandalized. The mine installed new taps again.
On pit latrines the mine is said to have requested a list of households so as to cost the project.

Officials from the government’s Rural Water Supply (RWS), a government institution, agreed to help with costing the project but said they needed a list of households.
The committee is said to have delayed submitting the list until Area Chief Malisebo Mokone intervened and compiled her own list. But the committee rejected the chief’s list during a meeting with the mine in October.

A new list was only submitted last December and the RWS completed the bills of quantity in February this year. The mine has started constructing 202 VIP toilets according to the guidelines from RWS. Yet progress has been slow due to new demands from the community committee. The mine says the committee has been complaining that some of the toilets are not deep enough and up to standard.

But even as that project is happening emotions are already running high and relations seemed to have been poisoned.
The last straw came in early February when heavy rains swamped four homesteads in a floodplain near the mine.
The community claimed the flood was because the mine’s sludge dam had burst. The mine however denied the allegation, insisting that the flood had nothing to do with its operations.
Kao Mine says despite not being culpable it offered to relocate the four families to another area. As a temporary measure it rented some homes in the village for the victims. It also asked the victims to apply for land from the council so they could be relocated.

But while the dust was still settling the villagers protested on February 8. In the skirmishes the police fatally shot a villager and injured two others. What followed put paid to all chances of dialogue between the mine and the community.
Trade Minister Tefo Mapesela, who was acting Minister of Mines at that time, arrived at the mine as tensions were already seething.
Mapesela gave the mine a three-month ultimatum to relocate the flood victims, maintain the Kao-to-Ha Lejone road and address all other grievances raised by the community.
Kao Mine’s corporate chief executive, Mohale Ralikariki, says the minister’s ultimatum and statements “made the situation worse”.
Ralikariki says the mine committed to relocating the affected families. He says although the mine provided machinery to repair the road when it was damaged by heavy rainfalls it has no plans to continuously maintain the road because it is not its responsibility.

As for the electricity Ralikariki says Kao Mine had jointly agreed with Liqhobong Mine to build a power line from Pitseng that passes through the villages.
“The idea was that with time the government would utilise this infrastructure to connect the villages to the grid,” he says.

The power line, he adds, cost the companies M220 million and it strategically passes through the villages for ease of connection in the future.
“The mine has never refused to meet its end of the bargain with the community. In fact, there have been on-going efforts to address the community’s concerns,” Ralikariki says.
“The problem, though, is that we don’t know who we should be dealing with because there are too many hands on the issue.”

By “too many hands” Ralikariki is talking about politicians, the parliamentary portfolio committee and the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), an ecumenical lobby group mobilising the communities around the mine. thepost will explore the role of these three in the next few articles.
On April 25 another protest erupted at this mine.

This time some employees from the villages and villagers allegedly vandalised the mine’s water supply pipes and other equipment, forcing the company to suspend operations for two days.
Ratia and eight other employees, who are alleged to be among those who forced other employees to down tools, were suspended.
Tourism Minister Motlohi Maliehe arrived at the mine in a helicopter at around 4pm and after a brief meeting he instructed the mine to lift the suspensions. The mine withdrew the suspension letters but refused to budge on Ratia.

“The reason was that this was the second time Ratia had threatened lives of the people and violated mine policies and procedures. A few weeks before the protest he made threatening statements in a meeting of community committee, and mine management and officials from the Ministry of Mining” Ralikariki says.
Ratia was eventually fired but has since appealed.

The company sees Ratia as a rabble-rouser stirring trouble. Ratia denies instigating the community against the mine.
“I don’t know why they associate me with the protests and why they pinpointed me of all the people,” Ratia said this week.
“Instead of saying the people took to the streets in protest for their own reasons they put blame on me as a person. I have not influenced anybody to stage any protest against the mine.”
Rorisang Mahlo, the Ministry of Mines’ public relations officer, said the ministry is concerned by the trouble in the mining sector.

“We feel that this situation is threatening the whole mining sector and it must be resolved before things get out of hand,” Mahlo said.
He said a special team of officials from departments in the ministry has been formed to investigate the disturbances in the mining sector.
“The law enforcement agencies raised concerns about the security disturbances at the mines. They have since asked us to join the team so we can assist each other in addressing the issue.”
On May 30 there was another protest at the mine. This time the main issue was the reinstatement of Ratia.

Staff Reporter

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