THE raging Kao Mine saga recently took another twist when the company fired the Community Committee chairperson, Tseko Ratia.
Mr Ratia is also an engineering assistant at the beleaguered company which has endured a strained relationship with the local community which accuses it of reneging on promises to compensate them for relocation from their ancestral lands to pave the way for diamond mining activities.
The locals say the company has failed to give them first priority in terms of employment and they also accuse the company of failing to spearhead meaningful development projects.
All of this has been denied by the company which says it has employed hundreds of locals, built roads, refurbished schools and initiated other development projects in areas near the mine which is located in the Butha-Buthe district.
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.
The tensions that had been simmering between the two sides boiled over when the locals 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.
Mr Ratia was dismissed on Wednesday for his alleged role in instigating the April protests. He was also accused of threatening his colleagues with death during a meeting that was held on the 11th of April to find solutions to the conflict between the mine and locals.
Mr Ratia confirmed his dismissal in an interview with the Sunday Express on Friday.
“A decision was made at a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday that my permanent employment contract should be terminated with immediate effect without pay,” Mr Ratia said.
“I am still shocked by the decision to fire me because the reasons given to me by the Kao mine Mining Manager Johann Bosch were unfair. Mr Bosch told me that I was dismissed so that I can go ahead and mobilise the community and influence protests to frustrate operations of the mine without any hindrance. He said he will just call the police to come and shoot us.
“The mine is unfairly targeting me as an individual not as a community representative. I am definitely going to take the mine to task for this.”
The Kao Mine is operated by Storm Mountain Diamonds (Pty) Limited. Storm Diamonds is jointly owned by South African company, Namakwa Diamonds Limited (75 percent shareholding) and the government (25 shareholding).
Efforts to obtain comment from Storm Diamonds’ Chief Executive Officer, Mohale Ralikariki, were fruitless as he did not answer his phone.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Mining Keketso Sello said he was shocked by Mr Ratia’s dismissal because he had advised the mine not to suspend or dismiss any employee at this “fragile time when there were clashes between the community and the mine”.
Mr Sello said in as much as his ministry could not reverse internal decisions of the mine, the mine should allowed dialogue to continue among the ministry, community and the mine before taking any action.
“I went to Kao mine to meet with SDM authorities and the community several times. The discussions to address the community’s concerns are ongoing and I pleaded with the mine not to suspend or dismiss any because such decisions might aggravate the situation.”
Mr Sello also complained that he was now being forced to deal with issues which should be dealt with by other ministries.
“In as much as Kao is a mine, the issues of unfair dismissals and employment fall under ministry of labour and employment. The issues of damaged roads and quarry disposals should be addressed by the tourism and roads ministries,” Mr Sello said.