A LOCAL human rights advocacy organisation says that Lesotho’s diamonds are in danger of being labelled ‘blood diamonds’ if the escalating conflicts between the Kao Mine and local communities in Butha-Buthe are not resolved as a matter of urgency.
The Transformation Resource Centre’s (TRC) director, Tsikoane Peshoane recently said this in the wake of the latest wave of clashes between the mine and locals who staged a violent protest against the company’s alleged failure to fulfil its promises to give them compensation for relocating them from their homes to pave way for the mining operations.
The locals also accuse the mine of reneging on its promises to give them jobs and 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.
In the latest twist of events, the Kao Community Committee Liaison Officer, Tseko Ratia was arrested on Wednesday by the Butha-Buthe police for allegedly instigating unlawful protests at the mine a fortnight ago.
The arrest comes barely a week after the mine- which is operated by Storm Mountain Diamonds (Pty) Limited – accused unnamed government officials of inciting villagers to cause chaos “which is not conducive for the sustainability of operations and investor confidence”.
Storm Mountain Diamonds (Pty) Limited is jointly owned by South African company, Namakwa Diamonds Limited (75 percent shareholding) and the government (25 percent shares).
In his recent address to the media, Mr Peshoane said the ongoing conflicts would soon earn the diamonds the unsavoury tag of ‘blood diamonds’.
The United Nations defines blood diamonds as any diamonds mined in areas controlled by armed forces opposed to the legitimate and internationally recognised government. These are sold to fund military action against that government.
The definition of blood diamonds also extend to diamonds produced in situations of violence, worker exploitation, environmental degradation, and other forms of human suffering.
Mr Peshoane said even though the diamonds from Kao Mine are not produced in a situation of armed conflict and civil war, they could well become blood diamonds on the basis of the loss of lives if the conflict is not resolved.
“Mining companies that oppress local communities and spill blood attract a bad reputation,” Mr Peshoane said.
It would be unfortunate if we turned a blind eye on the crises facing the communities and the diamonds produced in Lesotho will have a bad reputation which would mean they cannot be sold anywhere in the world,”
He called on the mine to stop what he said was the mistreatment of the local community. He also urged non-government organisations (NGOs) to speak out against alleged human rights violations at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
The TRC’s Human Rights Officer, Lepeli Moeketsi said access to clean water in Kao was a major challenge because the natural springs in the area had been affected by the mining activities.
“Storm Mountain Diamonds has covered some water sources with waste basalt stones generated by the drilling, blasting and excavation of the kimberlite. The major source of this is the lack of compliance with environmental laws and the failure by the mine to adhere to its own environmental management plans.
“The community is supplied with water from the mine through public stand pipes and tanks. These water supply turns to have quality limitations because at times its turbidity is affected by the cleaning products. It has unpleasant odour,” Adv Moeketsi said.
He also alleged that the dust propelled by the mine’s heavy trailer trucks and other vehicles was inhaled by the locals in Kao and the nearby Liqhobong and Motete communities.
He said the dust affected houses, clothes, plants and other property of the locals.
He further said that the locals had to travel long distances to access health services because they had no access to health services offered in the mining compound.
“In Kao there are families who do not have toilets after the mine convinced the then government in 2012 to cancel plans to construct toilets for the community. The mine had said it would do so as part of its corporate social responsibility but it has not delivered to date.
“All affected areas do not have access to electricity although there is power in the mines and the poles are erected on the communities’ property. The Kao, Liqhobong, Motete and Pae-liaetlhatso communities experience difficulty of movement due to poor roads and expensive public transport,” Adv Moeketsi said.
He added: “The TRC urged the African Commission to call upon the government to ensure that the mines abide by the laws and policies governing the sector. The government must ensure that the affected communities’ needs are addressed promptly.”
Storm Diamonds has however, denied claims that it has failed the locals. It has said that it has gone out of its way to employ locals, construct roads and other infrastructure as well as fund income generating projects.