Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

ALOCAL hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion says that Le­sotho’s di­a­monds are in dan­ger of be­ing la­belled ‘blood di­a­monds’ if the es­ca­lat­ing con­flicts be­tween the Kao Mine and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in Butha-Buthe are not re­solved as a mat­ter of ur­gency.

The Trans­for­ma­tion Re­source Cen­tre’s (TRC) di­rec­tor, Tsikoane Peshoane re­cently said this in the wake of the lat­est wave of clashes be­tween the mine and lo­cals who staged a vi­o­lent protest against the com­pany’s al­leged fail­ure to ful­fil its prom­ises to give them com­pen­sa­tion for re­lo­cat­ing them from their homes to pave way for the min­ing op­er­a­tions.

The lo­cals also ac­cuse the mine of reneg­ing on its prom­ises to give them jobs and to im­ple­ment mean­ing­ful de­vel­op­ment projects in the area.

One per­son died and two oth­ers were crit­i­cally in­jured on 8 Feb­ru­ary 2018 after vi­o­lent clashes broke out be­tween the po­lice and vil­lagers who were protest­ing against the al­leged fail­ure by the mine to hon­our its prom­ises to com­pen­sate and re­lo­cate them from the ar­eas af­fected by min­ing op­er­a­tions.

In the lat­est twist of events, the Kao Com­mu­nity Com­mit­tee Li­ai­son Of­fi­cer, Tseko Ra­tia was ar­rested on Wed­nes­day by the Butha-Buthe po­lice for al­legedly in­sti­gat­ing un­law­ful protests at the mine a fort­night ago.

The ar­rest comes barely a week after the minewhich is op­er­ated by Storm Moun­tain Di­a­monds (Pty) Lim­ited — ac­cused un­named gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials of in­cit­ing vil­lagers to cause chaos “which is not con­ducive for the sus­tain­abil­ity of op­er­a­tions and in­vestor con­fi­dence”.

Storm Moun­tain Di­a­monds (Pty) Lim­ited is jointly owned by South African com­pany, Na­makwa Di­a­monds Lim­ited (75 per­cent share­hold­ing) and the gov­ern­ment (25 per­cent shares).

In his re­cent ad­dress to the me­dia, Mr Peshoane said the on­go­ing con­flicts would soon earn the di­a­monds the un­savoury tag of ‘blood di­a­monds’.

The United Na­tions de­fines blood di­a­monds as any di­a­monds mined in ar­eas con­trolled by armed forces op­posed to the le­git­i­mate and in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised gov­ern­ment. These are sold to fund mil­i­tary ac­tion against that gov­ern­ment.

The def­i­ni­tion of blood di­a­monds also ex­tend to di­a­monds pro­duced in sit­u­a­tions of violence, worker ex­ploita­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, and other forms of hu­man suf­fer­ing.

Mr Peshoane said even though the di­a­monds from Kao Mine are not pro­duced in a sit­u­a­tion of armed con­flict and civil war, they could well be­come blood di­a­monds on the ba­sis of the loss of lives if the con­flict is not re­solved.

“Min­ing com­pa­nies that op­press lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and spill blood at­tract a bad rep­u­ta­tion,” Mr Peshoane said.

It would be un­for­tu­nate if we turned a blind eye on the crises fac­ing the com­mu­ni­ties and the di­a­monds pro­duced in Le­sotho will have a bad rep­u­ta­tion which would mean they can­not be sold any­where in the world,”

He called on the mine to stop what he said was the mis­treat­ment of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. He also urged non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) to speak out against al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions at the African Com­mis­sion on Hu­man and Peo­ple’s Rights.

The TRC’s Hu­man Rights Of­fi­cer, Le­peli Moeketsi said ac­cess to clean wa­ter in Kao was a ma­jor chal­lenge be­cause the nat­u­ral springs in the area had been af­fected by the min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Storm Moun­tain Di­a­monds has cov­ered some wa­ter sources with waste basalt stones gen­er­ated by the drilling, blast­ing and ex­ca­va­tion of the kim­ber­lite. The ma­jor source of this is the lack of com­pli­ance with en­vi­ron­men­tal laws and the fail­ure by the mine to ad­here to its own en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment plans.

“The com­mu­nity is sup­plied with wa­ter from the mine through pub­lic stand pipes and tanks. These wa­ter sup­ply turns to have qual­ity lim­i­ta­tions be­cause at times its tur­bid­ity is af­fected by the clean­ing prod­ucts. It has un­pleas­ant odour,” Adv Moeketsi said.

He also al­leged that the dust pro­pelled by the mine’s heavy trailer trucks and other ve­hi­cles was in­haled by the lo­cals in Kao and the nearby Liqhobong and Motete com­mu­ni­ties.

He said the dust af­fected houses, clothes, plants and other prop­erty of the lo­cals.

He fur­ther said that the lo­cals had to travel long dis­tances to ac­cess health ser­vices be­cause they had no ac­cess to health ser­vices of­fered in the min­ing com­pound.

“In Kao there are fam­i­lies who do not have toi­lets after the mine con­vinced the then gov­ern­ment in 2012 to can­cel plans to con­struct toi­lets for the com­mu­nity. The mine had said it would do so as part of its cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity but it has not de­liv­ered to date.

“All af­fected ar­eas do not have ac­cess to elec­tric­ity al­though there is power in the mines and the poles are erected on the com­mu­ni­ties’ prop­erty.

“The Kao, Liqhobong, Motete and Pae-li­aetl­hatso com­mu­ni­ties ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fi­culty of move­ment due to poor roads and ex­pen­sive pub­lic trans­port,” Adv Moeketsi said.

He added: “The TRC urged the African Com­mis­sion to call upon the gov­ern­ment to en­sure that the mines abide by the laws and poli­cies govern­ing the sec­tor. The gov­ern­ment must en­sure that the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties’ needs are ad­dressed promptly.”

Storm Di­a­monds has how­ever, de­nied claims that it has failed the lo­cals. It has said that it has gone out of its way to em­ploy lo­cals, con­struct roads and other in­fra­struc­ture as well as fund in­come gen­er­at­ing projects.

TRC Di­rec­tor Tsikoane Peshoane.

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