MOKHOTLONG — Khapha-mali, a small village of dilapidated mud houses and grass thatch is ample testimony of how poverty continues to cripple this Kingdom.
The village is a far cry from its neighbour, a fairly modern compound in the Letšeng Diamonds complex, where mine workers live just three kilometres away.
Unlike the better structured mine compound, the Khapha-mali village is the very essence of dullness.
The houses, dubbed ’mantloane (child’s play house), look like they can disintegrate any time with the mud used to plaster them peeling off fast.
The roofs made up of rusty corrugated iron sheets can just fly away at the slightest blow off wind.
Villagers burn dried cow dung indoors to keep warm in the sub zero winter temperatures.
The only sign of modernity in this wretched village is the cement built pit latrines and water wells; thanks to a donation from Letšeng Diamonds.
Many of the Khapha-mali villagers live in the seemingly vain hope of getting employed at Letšeng Mine. But the jobs are scarce.
In fact Khapha-mali is a village created out of hope.
The hope to find the ever elusive jobs at Letšeng Mine.
Ntoli Libe, 42, says he left his home in Mapholaneng and came to Khapha-mali a few years ago looking for a vacant job at the Letšeng Diamond mine.
Libe has been a resident at Khapha-mali for the past six years.
Unfortunately he has not been able to secure a permanent position.
He is staying alone.
He had to send his wife back home when they welcomed their third baby in 2009.
“This is no place to raise a child here.
“It can also be dangerous because there are too many shebeens.
“There are a lot of men than women here. It is a rough place,” Libe says.
Due to rampant unemployment, many residents are operating small grocery shops to sell essentials like paraffin, bath soap, washing powder and tinned foods.
Most shops also sell beer.
Libe says more people have flocked the village in the past few years to look for jobs at the mine.
The movement has caused a high demand for housing.
Some residents like ’Maboelang Heisi have seen a business opportunity and build more small houses to rent out to new jobseekers arriving at the village.
A room costs M70 per month.
It is not much money but Heisi says it is better than nothing.
“We are all here looking for jobs in the mine. Most of us are not educated and so not easy to employ. Temporary jobs come once in a while but you still have to live and send some money back home,” says Heisi.
Heisi, who is also running a small grocery shop, says competition has become tighter in recent years with more people moving in.
“Everyone is opening a shop.
“The younger women are doing better because they attract more customers to their shops . . . So we the older women have to run businesses like renting rooms, that have nothing to do with our looks,”says Heisi.
She sells home brewed beer too.
“All the businesses do not bring enough money but I still have to sacrifice and send the little I can to my family back in Mokhotlong,” she adds.
She moved to Khapha-mali in the early 80s. There was no company operating the mine in those years.
It was after De Beers, a diamond mining company that had a Letšeng mining lease, stopped its operations.
During those years the villagers had the pleasure to illegally forage for diamonds and sell in the black market.
“We made so much money then.
“We were rich. The pleasures ended when the new company came to operate the mine. Most of us were looking for jobs but could not get any.
“We became poor. We have remained here hoping for a day when luck will come our way again.”
Letšeng Diamonds resumed operations in 2004, five years after the government gave a mining lease to a South African company, Gem Diamonds.
Gem Diamonds has 70 percent shares to the mine while the Lesotho government has 30 percent.
The mine has a total processing capacity of over five million tones of ore per year and recovery of approximately 100 000 carats per year, which makes Letšeng Mine the seventh largest kimberlite mine in the world.
The Letšeng Diamonds management says it is not possible to absorb all the people who come to look for jobs in the company especially when they have no expertise.
The mine has a few vacancies for unskilled labour.
The best the mine can do is to implement social responsibility projects for nearby villages to equip them with skills that can help them improve their lives.
Last Friday the mining company handed over 30 pit latrine toilets and protected water wells to the Khapha-mali community.
The donation may not seem much but the villagers are excited.
The days of squatting in open spaces are over.
“It feels good to have some privacy when nature calls. It was so embarrassing for us to hide in the bushes to relieve ourselves. It was not easy either to always ask to use neighbours’ toilets,” says Lehlohonolo Mosia.
Mosia says they are also grateful that Letšeng Diamonds has build water catchment tanks for the village.
“We drew water from open wells. It was not safe and unhygienic to drink from those wells.
“We are lucky not to have contracted life threatening diseases.”
Mosia says they are hopeful that Letšeng Mine will continue to help improve their lives.
“The mine is our only hope for a better life,” adds Mosia.