Ministers accused of sabotage
THE problems between the Kao Mine and the local community in the Butha Buthe district recently took a new twist with the company accusing unnamed cabinet ministers of inciting villagers into acts of vandalism that forced operations to grind to a halt.
The company said the cabinet ministers maintained direct communication with the vandals whose acts of subversion had not only “plunged the mine into chaos” but cost the country at least M202 500 for each day the mine did not operate.
Kao Mine is operated by Storm Mountain Diamonds (Pty) Limited. Storm Diamonds (SMD) is jointly owned by South African company, Namakwa Diamonds Limited (75 percent shareholding) and the government (25 shareholding).
There has been simmering tension between the mine and the locals who accuse the mine of reneging on its commitment to compensate them for relocation from their homes to pave way for the mine as well as the failure to give them jobs. The villagers also accuse the mine of failing 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.
Since then a series of meetings have been held at the mine aimed at addressing the villagers’ grievances.
The mine has even offered employment to the widow of Terene Pitae who was shot dead by police in February and even offered compensation to his family and other victims of the skirmishes.
But even those efforts failed to placate the locals who joined with mine workers in staging a protest against the mine from 25 to 27 April this year. The protest prompted the management to close the mine for the duration of the protests.
Equipment was vandalised during the protests and the company says the locals also trespassed on the mining lease area.
Yesterday, the company reported that the mine “has again…been plunged into chaos” after criminals vandalised mine property for unexplained reasons.
“Kao has again, from 30 May 2018…been plunged into chaos. Criminals have again vandalised mine property on and off of the mining lease area.
“The vandalism has again brought the mine to a stand-still,” the company said in a statement yesterday.
“The reasons for the criminal acts are once again unclear. The pre-text used in the past — the community grievances — are no longer provided as reasons.
“We also know that the perpetrators do not represent the interest of the community, as community members are distancing themselves from the actions of this mob. SMD knows that the majority of the local community members are law-abiding and wish to live and work in friendly co-operation with the mine.
“The question then remains: what sits behind the criminal actions? The answer appears to be, as it so often is in Lesotho, politics. We have factual evidence that some of the perpetrators are in direct communication with high-ranking politicians, including ministers in the cabinet.
“It seems that there is a political agenda in certain quarters to destabilise the mining sector, apparently in the hope that the mines can fail and that rights can be distributed to incumbent operators, with largesse and benefits to local politicians and others. In this arrangement the local offenders are used as agents by the politicians, with the promise of some benefit.
“The unlawful activities of the minority are impacting negatively on the rest of the community and on the mine. It is imperative that peaceful cooperation is restored.”
The company further said the acts of vandalism had assumed the added dimension of “subversion and subterfuge” that were detrimental to public order.
It also said it believed that the police had been prevented from apprehending the suspects by the politicians in government.
The company said despite laying numerous criminal charges against the leader of the community committee who it did not name, the police were forced by politicians to release him without any charges.
“The unlawful and criminal activities take on another dimension- that of subversion and subterfuge: of acts prejudicial to the public order; acts inciting violence, disorder, defiance and disobedience to the laws of the Kingdom; and, acts directing and organising people to perform unlawful acts.
“Actions such as these, which can lead to the destabilisation of the mining sector, are and should be of great concern to the government as this jeopardises not only the viability and sustainability of the mining sector, but also the internal security of the country.”
The company further stated that the country lost M202 500 for each day the mine was closed and the state would lose further income in the form of taxes generated by the mine.
It said the mine had contributed M413 million in royalties and taxes to the fiscus from September 2013 to April 2018.
The company said it needed assurance from the government that it would “through its executive and other organs, take the urgent steps required to bring this anarchy to an end”.
The ongoing conflict has not gone down well with the management who have defended their track record since taking over the mine in 2010.
In a previous communication on the ongoing conflict, the company said it had “invested significantly in community projects and infrastructure since it started operating at Kao”.
“These (investments) include the investment of more than M110 million bringing the powerline to Kao (Liqhobong invested a similar amount), which enables the government to draw power from the line to communities.
“The company has also built and maintains a 30 kilometre access road to Tlaeeng, which links the mine and its communities to the rest of the country.
“The company has started a current status needs analysis of community needs, which has been interrupted by the recent (protest) events.
“There is an unreasonable demand on the company to also build a road to Ha Lejone,” the company said.