A COMMUNITY rights advocacy group says the next Letšeng Diamonds chief executive officer (CEO) would have to engage the Mokhotlong community or face a lawsuit over their grievances.
This is according to the Maluti Community Development Forum (MCDF) which was established in 2013 to cater for communities affected by mining operations particularly in Mokhotlong where Letšeng Diamonds operates.
For its part, Letšeng Diamonds has said it complies with all the requirements of its Mining Lease Agreement and is an integral part of the Mokhotlong community.
Letšeng Diamonds operates Letšeng Diamond Mine which is renowned for producing four of the 20 largest white diamonds in the world.
Gem Diamonds Limited acquired the mine in October 2006 and owns 70 percent of shares while the Government of Lesotho holds the remaining 30 percent.
A recent statement from the Letšeng Diamonds Board of Directors, revealed they were in the advanced stages of recruiting a replacement for former CEO Mazvi Maharasoa who resigned late last year.
“Recruitment at the level of a CEO of a prestigious company such as Letšeng is a lengthy process and, for many obvious reasons confidentially is of great importance,” reads the statement dated 27 June 2017.
“The Letšeng Board will be making an announcement on the new appointee when it has concluded the appointment process and informed all stakeholders.”
However, the advocacy group said the next CEO would have their work cut out in “normalising the company’s frosty relationship” with the local community.
In a recent interview with the Sunday Express, MCDF President, Advocate Thabo Lerotholi accused Ms Maharasoa of ignoring the demands of the community.
Among other demands, the community wanted a five percent stake in the mine.
Adv Lerotholi said they were considering approaching the courts over “social injustices” he claimed had been committed by the mine, including environmental degradation.
He said the mine had destroyed the wetlands they depended on for clean water.
“We are concerned with how the new CEO will address the issues that for a long time have been raised by the community, and if he/she does not change the approach in handling these issues, he/she should expect to meet us in court,” Adv Lerotholi said.
MCDF Secretary-General, Likotsi Lemeke said the drying wetlands could jeopardise the multi-billion maloti bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project since the wetlands were located upstream of the Khubelu River which feeds into the planned Polihali Dam.
Mr Lemeke further claimed that the mine has subjected the community to drinking raw untreated water after “destroying” their wetlands.
“Again, the community living below one of their dams is in perpetual fear of the dam bursting as this could be detrimental to their lives and their property,” he said adding they wondered if there was an insurance plan to compensate the people in case of disaster.
Another issue of concern was the noise from blasting at the mine which often scards off livestock and wild animals.
The razor wire securing the mining area has proved to be a hazardous trap for livestock.
Adv Lerotholi however, said they noted with satisfaction the nascent efforts by the mine to engage the community in resolving the concerns.
“Very recently, they approached the community to get input on how we can work together in their corporate social responsibility initiatives, something they never used to do in the past.
“We therefore take pride in the fact that they are starting to listen to our advice.”
Adv Lerotholi said they hoped the new government would not follow the example of the previous one which allegedly connived with the mine to frustrate a 2016 petition by the community to raise awareness about its plight.
“In 2016, people were harassed and made fun of by the police. They were asked by police to get off the trucks and hold their ears and jump like frogs.
“Yet the police had sanctioned the march under the law,” he said adding the police had since apologised.
He also said that they were happy with the support they were receiving from the international community.
“We have been sharing our experiences at different fora around the Southern Africa region and we will go as far as Europe in our quest for justice if need be.”
Letšeng Diamonds Communications and Community Relations Officer Lebohang Chefa responded with a terse statement saying: “Letšeng remains a responsible corporate citizen that complies with all the requirements of the Mining Lease Agreement and is an integral part of the Mokhotlong community.”