VILLAGERS within the vicinity have warned Kolo Mine owners in Kolo in Mafeteng district to meet their demands for employment and compensation or face unspecified punitive measures.
The villagers delivered the warning on Friday in the presence of Mining Minister, Keketso Sello, who had visited the mine as part of his familiarisation tour of mining operations in the country.
The visit was aimed at appraising the minister on the developments at the mine as well as the mine’s relations with the host community.
Reskol, a subsidiary of Batla Minerals, owns 90 percent shares of the mine with the remainder being held by government. It obtained 10-year mining lease to operate Kolo mine in 2011.
‘Mamahlape Hlapane, the chairperson of Mabalane Development Community Forum, said their interest was in ensuring that the Kolo community which is made of 40 villages, benefit from the mine. She said this at a gathering that was held in Ha Petlane village soon after the minister toured the mine.
“A lot of destruction could happen if the mine does not cooperate with the community,” Ms Hlapane said, adding, “So it is in the mine’s interests to work with the community for harmonious relations”.
Ms Hlapane also questioned the extended period of non-commercial operations the mine has engaged in since 2006. She said different investors had taken turns to run the mine only to leave before full scale mining could start.
“In the meantime our natural resources are being depleted yet the community is not benefiting anything from the mine after all these years. So, we want to know when is full scale mining is commencing.”
She said they were not expecting another investor to come in when the current one completes the trial phase as has been the practice over many years.
Ms Hlapane further said that villagers whose houses walls had cracked as a result of the mine’s operations had not been compensated and there was nobody taking responsibility as they were told the damage was done by the previous mine operators.
She said villagers were also exposed to high levels of noise pollution and dust from the mine which posed serious health risks to the community.
Ms Hlapane further alleged that the borehole established to provide the mine with water had resulted in the drying up of the wetlands in the area which the community depended on for water.
Another community member, Tšitso Namane, expressed concern that kimberlite was being loaded on the mining site and carried away- something which made them believe mine owners were already benefiting from the current operations.
He also called on the mine operator to open a technical training institute in the village to equip locals with relevant mining skills. The issue of the training institute was repeated by several speakers.
He further urged the mine to establish a trust fund that would help to address the community’s social welfare needs.
Kolo No.49 legislator, Putsoane Leeto, accused the mine of making good promises that it never fulfilled. He further noted that there was poor communications between the community and the mine owners who relied on chiefs as intermediaries.
In response, Reskol Diamond Mining Director, Mike Reynolds, blamed several challenges at the mine for the extended trial mining phase.
He said the kimberlite rock at the site was unusually hard and often caused the crushing plant to break down, resulting in delays.
During the minister’s tour, operations were suspended to enable the crushing equipment to be repaired. The machine has been working for more than a month.
Mr Reynolds also said that water shortages were affecting progress at the mine. He said they recently drilled a borehole to address the challenge but denied the villagers’ assertion that it had caused water sources to dry up in the area.
He said it could be caused by the drought.
He also denied that they were benefiting from the mine.
“We have not sold any diamonds from the mine so far and this can be backed by the ministry,” Mr Reynolds said.
Going forward, Mr Reynolds said they would modify their plant equipment in order to get optimum output in their production activities.
He further said they were also planning to start relocating households to be affected by the mine by 2018.
On the environmental effects of their operations, Mr Reynolds said they were working in collaboration with the ministry responsible for environment for mitigation.
For his part, Mr Sello said he expects the mine to work in harmony with the community. He said dialogue was key to resolving the differences.
“I expect Reskol to strive for harmonious relations with the community. I expect you to adopt an open door policy in order to discuss issues with the people.
“Empower them with the skills they need in order for the mine to operate harmoniously with the community.”