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‘TRC are merchants of chaos’

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MASERU – STORM Mountain Diamond (SMD), owners of Kao Mine, says its patience with Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) is wearing thin and might soon resort to the courts if the lobby group does not stop spreading false information and instigating communities against the company.
SMD is in the throes of community unrest at Kao Mine that started a few months ago.

The community accuses the mine of reneging on its promises to employ locals, repair roads, build toilets and compensate the villagers for their fields and grazing lands.
The mine however says it has met its end of the bargain and remains committed to doing more. It says some of the issues like the roads is the responsibility of the government even though the company is still maintaining some roads.

But it says all its good work in the community is being frustrated by the TRC’s involvement which has “done more harm than good to the interests of the community”.
Mohale Ralikariki, SMS’s corporate chief executive, has been at the forefront of efforts to engage the community, the TRC and government stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the dispute which he says has hit the mine’s operations hard.

This week Ralikariki spoke to thepost in response allegations by the TRC. We started by asking him why SMD believes the TRC is no longer part of the solution to the mine’s dispute with the community.

It has become clear that TRC is not working in the best interests of the community. They have their own agenda which is way out of sync with the interests and aspirations of the community.
They are sowing divisions in the community instead of building rapport. Although the TRC has been working with the community in the past. We noticed a sudden change in tactics in August last year when it helped organise the election of the new community liaison committee.
It is that new committee that is now working with the TRC to create problems for the mine. Since then, we have had demonstrations and relations between the community and the mine have been fractured.

And this is not because the community does not want to work with the mine but simply because any effort to have proper dialogue is being sabotaged by the TRC and the new committee.
Since August we have not had any meaningful discussions with TRC because they have become extremely unruly.
They have stopped behaving like a civic organisation. They are now instigating violence as we saw during the illegal demonstration that left one person dead and two seriously injured earlier this year.

It is a fact that TRC was at the forefront of organising that illegal demonstration.
Now instead of going to back to the community to apologise for their part in that illegal protest, the TRC is blaming the mine and making libellous allegations that have no basis or foundation.

Have you tried to have discussions with the TRC?
Yes, we even went to the extent of organising a civic forum at which we met TRC, CCJP (Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace) and Seinoli Legal Centre.
We were discussing community issues but after the meeting, TRC went to the community to misrepresent the information. After every discussion the TRC would go out and spread false information about the meeting. But the TRC has not stopped there.

As we speak, they have been trying to force the company to recognise a union they formed without following procedure. They want the mine to recognise the union against the labour laws and regulations of the country.
We have simply insisted that they follow the proper procedure but the TRC is refusing to do that. Now the TRC is creating problems from both angles. Outside they are working with the committee and inside they are working with the union which is not even recognised.

It is clear to us that the TRC has its own agenda. During those meetings you could see that the CCJP was working for peace while the TRC was working for chaos.
The CCJP wants an arrangement that benefits both the community and the company. The TRC is only interested in trouble. They have moved from being a civic organisation to being unruly activists who thrive on lies and criminal activity.

What misrepresentations has the TRC made to the community?
The allegations are varied but the most serious one is that the mine does not comply with the environmental laws of the country.
They make this false allegation despite the fact that they are aware that the mine has a valid environmental licence from the government.
We have an approved Environmental Impact Assessment report. Our Environmental Management Plan has been approved by the government and we continue to be assessed on its implementation.

The department of environment has routine checks at the mine and nothing has been found to be out of order. We also have our own experts who ensure that we are doing the right thing.
It is in our interest as a mine to take care of the environment. But to the TRC all these are not enough because they have their own agenda.

But they are saying sewerage has spilled into water sources.
Again, that is a lie they have peddled for months. It’s simply not true and they have never produced any evidence to support that allegation. We have asked them to show us the evidence but they are not bringing it.

It’s the same with the allegations that a mudslide from the mine affected four families. That is simply not true. Again, they have no evidence to support that allegation. You may ask why then we are relocating the families if we didn’t cause the problem.
The answer is simply that we are playing our role of helping the community. Those houses were built in a swampy area that is prone to floods. Here I mean natural floods and not any mud from the mine.

They were going to flood, with or without the mine’s activities. We have to be clear that just because you are assisting someone doesn’t mean you caused the problem. Sadly, even the efforts to relocate the families have been frustrated.
The TRC will never tell you that the company has been paying rent for those affected. They will never tell you that there is a clear plan to relocate the family.
They will never tell you that we have already designed the models for their houses. They will never tell you about the good things we are doing for the community because the agenda is to cause problems.

If they were a fair and objective organisation they would acknowledge the initiatives we have in the community.
We have built classrooms, employed locals, maintained roads, supplied water to villages and started a chicken project for the community. We assist schools and the sick.
How about roads and toilets?
Well, the TRC is aware that SMD is maintaining the Kao to Tlaeeng road. They have always known that but they would rather create the impression that we are responsible for the Kao to Ha Lejone road.

They also know that Liqhobong Mine had agreed to maintain Kao to Ha Lejone Road as and when there is need. They will never tell the people that there is a clear agreement in whose making they participated.  It is shocking that the TRC continues to tell the people that we are responsible for that road. The TRC is also aware that there was a contractor hired by the government to repair that road but they will not tell this to the people.

As a civic organisation they also know that it is the responsibility of a government to build and maintain roads yet they continue to peddle this lie that SMD is responsible.
The list of lies from the TRC is endless. The issue about toilets was never supposed to be a problem.
The mine had already agreed to build a toilet for each household. We asked the committee to make a list of the households that should get the toilets.
But thanks to the TRC’s involvement that process was delayed. The list never came until the chief of the area made a list of her own. The committee rejected that list and said it wanted to make another one.

We agreed but then we waited for several more months for that list. It was only after months that the Rural Water Supply was able to get the list to help us with the designs and the costing.
In the meantime, the TRC and the committee were misleading the people that we wanted to build communal toilets.
When we started building the committee said the toilets were too big. When we reduced the size they said the toilets were too small. All this happened because the TRC is influencing the committee to frustrate the mine’s efforts to help the community.
The TRC thrives on chaos.

The TRC says your compensation scales are unfair.
People are being compensated fairly for their grazing lands and fields. We have regular meetings with the owners of the land and they agree that the process is fair.
The TRC has never brought a model that they think is fairer than what we have.
Our own analysis shows that we have one of the fairest compensation systems among the mines in similar situations. A simple comparison will attest to this fact.

Do you believe that the TRC can help resolve the dispute?
Absolutely not. They have shown that they have no appetite for peace and solutions. Now they have a habit of insisting on being in meetings between the mine and line ministries.
We have always wondered where the TRC gets the mandate to come into meetings between mines and the regulating ministries. They are even bringing the community committee into those meetings.

There is everything wrong with a system in which a civic organisation wants to play the role of the regulator. The ministries are the regulators but the TRC thinks they should be reporting to them.
The chaos in the mining sector is brought by the TRC. The TRC seems to have taken charge of the meetings and the processes that are supposed to be managed by the regulators. Instead of being participants in the meetings they have hijacked the processes.

They should not be playing the leading role in these matters. We have told the ministries about this anomaly.
It’s no longer clear whether the TRC wants to be an arbitrator, an instigator or regulator. We don’t have a problem with them participating but they should know their role and their agenda should be clear.

Their official, Hlalele Hlalele, is so misdirected that he accuses the Ministry of Mines of meeting us without the TRC.
At one meeting he came with a poster accusing the mine of violating human rights and environmental regulations.
What he is not saying is that the TRC organised the illegal demonstration that led to the death of an innocent villager. He is not accepting that he went beyond their mandate. It is the TRC that pushed the protesters to cut the mine’s water supply.

They were leading this criminal behaviour but they are now shifting the blame on the mine.
The trouble is that in the media the TRC says it was the police that is to blame for the incident and but to the community they say it’s the mine to blame.

How are you going to respond to the TRC?
The company will continue to stand for the truth and work with the villagers to improve their lives. But we should warn the TRC against continuing with these malicious allegations.
They have to be careful because we are getting to a point where we might have to take legal action against them. This option is under serious consideration because the TRC cannot be allowed to defame other organisations with lies.

It cannot continue to brew trouble for the mine using outright lies.
It cannot continue to support criminal activities that endanger innocent people in the community.
It should not be allowed to support rogue elements that are sabotaging mine operations.
Our employees and communities cannot be used as pawns in a political game.
We are clear that we have improved the lives of the communities around the mine. We continue to treat the communities as partners.

Staff Reporter

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A night of horror

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THE police arrived in Ha-Rammeleke, a Mokhotlong village, in the middle of the night.
They stormed one house and found a couple sleeping.

They then dragged the man out and ordered him to follow their instructions if he didn’t want to be killed. Their order was that he should scream while announcing to his neighbours that his wife was gravely ill. The villagers who responded to the man’s plea for help didn’t know that they were walking into a trap.

The police rounded them up as they arrived at the man’s house.

Their night of horror has just begun.

Dozens of men and women were frog-marched to the edge of the village.

The police assaulted the men with sticks and whips. They kicked others.

In the crowd was Tebalo Lesita, a 48-year-old Rastafarian with dreadlocks.

He was called to the front and ordered to act like a Rastafarian.

First, they said he should sing Reggae while shaking his head so that his dreadlocks would wave from side to side. He did and they laughed.

“They also ordered me to mimic Lucky Dube.”

Lesita says he only shouted like he was singing because, due to fear, all Lucky Dube’s songs he knew had slipped out of his mind.

“I just mumbled some words as if I was singing. I have never experienced such torment before.”

“I only kept saying ‘Ye ye ye!’”, he says.

They laughed again.

Meanwhile, the police were hurling insults at him.

“I was told that I was smelling rubbish in the mouth.”

Lesita says the police then instructed him to act as if he was having sex.

And when he said he was tired of the act the police ordered him to act as if he was ejaculating.

He did and his tormentors roared with laughter.

The police, Lesita says, wanted him and other villagers to confess that they knew men who had shot and killed a man earlier in the village.

Lesita says after the ordeal that lasted nearly an hour the police ordered him to pray. He claims his body is full of bruises, especially on the buttocks.

“My body is aching all over.”

Lesita says he wants to sue the police but doesn’t know where to start.

“I understand that my human rights have been grossly violated but I do not know which legal steps to follow,” he says.

A week after the assault, he still hasn’t sought medical help.

Nor has he opened a case against the police.

“I find it impossible to open the case against them. I will have to go to the police station to open a case,” he says.

“How can I open the case against the police at the police station?”

As a sheep farmer, Lesita says he cannot afford the taxi fare to travel to Mapholaneng to report a case at Tlokoeng Police Station.

Lesita says he cut his dreadlocks a day after the incident “because they have put me into serious problems”.

“I rue the day that I started growing those dreadlocks,” he says.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, confirmed that there was a police operation in Mokhotlong but said he didn’t know how it unfolded.

Incidents of the police terrorising villagers under the guise of fighting or investigating crimes are common in Lesotho.

It is rare for police officers involved in such incidents to be arrested or prosecuted.

Majara Molupe

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Anger over Chinese businesses

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FORMER Mining Minister, Lebohang Thotanyana, says Lesotho is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Chinese companies that win major construction tenders to import everything from China.

Thotanyana was speaking at the Basotho Business Empowerment Forum on Tuesday.

The forum was organised by the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Association.

Thotanyana told the forum that of all the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries, Lesotho is the one benefitting the least from hiring Chinese-owned companies for major infrastructure projects. 

 

Thotanyana said Chinese companies tend to “import everything save menial labour” in every government job they win.

 

“We only benefit minimally with the labour force,” Thotanyana said, adding that “more money goes back to the countries that have brought their own machinery”.

 

“This is exactly what is happening at the Polihali Dam which is under construction.” 

 

“There should be a value chain so that the economy grows.”

 

Tempers flared at the forum as local business owners accused the government of failing to protect them against Chinese businesses. 

 

The forum revealed the growing frustration among local business owners who feel the government is not doing enough to protect them against Chinese business muscling them out of sectors reserved for them. 

 

The local business owners criticised the government for failing to implement the Business Licensing and Registration Act 2019 that reserves certain businesses for indigenous Basotho. 

 

They told the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Thabo Moleko, together with a handful of MPs in attendance, that their patience had worn out.

 

“We want our business from the Chinese and Indians,” Thobei Motlere, the president of the MSME Association said.

 

“We are not afraid of these Chinese,” he added, adding that they could approach them head-on.

 

“We want to see the Act implemented now, not tomorrow or any other time. We want to push them out of the business peacefully. We want peace.”

 

Motlere said they have been pushed out of business by the Chinese yet there is a law to protect them “against unfair competition”.

 

“We have elected you as MPs but you are doing nothing to save us from the competition yet there is a law in place,” Motlere said.

 

The MPs tried to respond to some of the issues people but they were booed and heckled. 

 

“This is not the right place to answer. You should address this in parliament, not here,” said one woman in the crowd. 

 

Some MPs walked out of the forum in protest but were eventually coaxed to return to their chairs. 

 

’Maremi ’Mabathoana, a street vendor, said the Chinese sell almost every item.

 

“We buy from their shops so that we can sell small items. But the Chinese also sell small items,” ’Mabathoana said.

 

“When we sell a sweet for M1, they sell it for 50c,” she yelled.

 

“When we sell apples for M4, the Chinese sell them for M2. This is unfair.”

 

Moeketsi Motšoane, the Mafeteng MP who is the chairman of the parliament’s Natural Resources committee, said he is also facing similar challenges in his home district.

 

Trying to calm the irked traders, Motšoane said he could bet that some people were being used by the Chinese to kick Basotho out of business.

 

“There are such people amongst you who are being used by the Chinese to knock Basotho out of business,” Motšoane said.

 

He told the Ministry of Trade to move swiftly to implement the Act.

 

“If you do not implement the Act, we will drag you before the committee to account,” he said.

 

 Moleko, the principal secretary of Trade,  promised to implement the law. 

Majara Molupe

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Labour unions in nasty fight

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TWO trade unions representing workers at Polihali Dam construction site have turned on each other.
Instead of fighting for better pay and conditions for members, the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) are locked in a nasty battle that could be linked to a fight over membership.

CMQ alleges that LEWA officials intimidated its members who wanted to vote for a proposed strike against companies working at Polihali Dam.

CMQ also accuses LEWA’s secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, of conflict of interest which it says renders him unable to effectively represent workers in their battles against employers in Polihali.

CMQ says Seoaholimo is working as a union leader and an employer at the same time. This, CMQ says, is because Seoaholimo’s company, Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd, has been subcontracted by some companies working at Polihali Dam.

The allegations of intimidation and conflict of interest are part of the letter that CMQ’s secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, has written to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

In that letter, seen by thepost, Mokhahlane pleads with the Registrar of Trade Unions to deregister LEWA over the alleged intimidation and Seoaholimo’s conflict of interest.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that because of Seoaholimo’s shareholding in Domino Blasting, LEWA has “characteristics of a company, not a trade union”.

“At Polihali Dam construction, there (were) workers who were employed by Domino Blasting Services at various projects,” Mokhahlane alleges.

“They (Domino Blasting) have a long list of projects that have references and include some companies involved in the construction of Polihali Dam.”

Seoaholimo is one of Domino Blasting’s four directors and holds 300 of the 1000 shares in the company.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that Seoaholimo cannot claim to be independently fighting for workers’ rights when his company is working with the same companies accused of unfair labour practices in Polihali.

He also accuses Domino Blasting’s human resource officer, Mpho Kanono, of being conflicted because she is also an official of the United Textile Employees (UNITE).

“Both the two officials (Seoaholimo and Kanono) are workers’ representatives within the Wages Advisory Board whereby Hlalefang Seoaholimo is the spokesperson of the workers,” Mokhahlane says.

Mokhahlane also accuses Seoaholimo of “intimidating workers who will be balloting for a strike action by encouraging LEWA members to observe and identify workers” who would participate.

He claims that Seoaholimo mocked a CMQ official who was mobilising workers for the strike at the construction site.

The Labour Code, which the registrar has been asked to invoke, says a union or employers’ organisation may be cancelled by the Labour Court on the registrar’s application.

Seoaholimo has however vehemently refuted allegations that his company is working at Polihali Dam. He told thepost that CMQ is in a campaign to tarnish his name and that of LEWA because “they are aware that workers do not want to join their union”.

He admits that he is a shareholder in Domino Blasting but insists that “as we speak now Domino Blasting does not have a job anywhere in Lesotho”.

“CMQ has to provide evidence that a company called Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd is working and has any employees in Polihali,” Seoaholimo said.

“Domino Blasting does not even have an office anywhere in the country because it is not working anymore.”

“They should identify the people hired by Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd among workers in Polihali.”

He said the company has not operated in Lesotho since 2016 when it completed a project. Seoaholimo, however, says he is aware of a South African company with a similar name working in Polihali.

“I as a person have nothing to do with that company,” Seoaholimo said.

He said it is true that Mpho Kanono used to work for Domino Blasting back in 2016 when it still had contracts but she has since left because “the company stopped working”.

“Mpho Kanono is an official of UNITE and has nothing to do with Domino Blasting at present moment.”

Staff Reporter

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