VILLAGERS living in the vicinity of the Kao Diamond Mine in Butha-Buthe have finally been relocated 11 years after mining operations commenced.
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).
Storm Diamonds chief executive officer, Mohale Ralikariki, officially handed over 15 homes built by the company to 15 families who were relocated from the Tiping to Sekiring village within the same district.
Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu attended the handover ceremony along with Mining Minister, Serialong Qoo, and Local Government and Chieftaincy Minister, Samuel Rapapa, among other dignitaries.
It remains to be seen whether the relocation and compensation of the villagers will bring the hoped-for improvement in the relations between the mine owners and the villagers.
There has been tension between the mine and the locals who accused the mine of reneging on its commitment to relocate and compensate them for the relocation to pave way for the mine. The villagers also accuse the mine of failing 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.
Since then a series of meetings have been held at the mine aimed at addressing the villagers’ grievances. Friday’s handover ceremony is the culmination of the meetings that have been held on different occasions over the years to find a solution to the local community’s grievances.
Among other things, the locals had complained that the mining operations in their midst exposed them to constant dangers of being hit by flying rocks, inhaling toxic dust and noise pollution during blasting operations.
Speaking at the handover ceremony, Mr Ralikariki said relocation preparations started way back in 2006 with their predecessors, Kao Diamond Mine (KMD), which operated the mine from 2004 to 2008.
Storm Diamonds took over the mine in 2009 and revived negotiations with the local community to relocate them.
“We are happy to be here today to hand over the homes to the villagers as this has been a long and grueling journey,” Mr Ralikariki said, adding the latest relocations brought the total number of those either relocated or compensated to 48 households at a cost of M28 million.
He said each household boasts of solar power, a television set with free-to-air channels as well as kraals for livestock.
A road and communal water taps have also been constructed and installed in the new village.
Mr Ralikariki said plans were afoot to build a health post as it would be a challenge for the resettled villagers to seek medical attention in other areas particularly during rainy days.
“We have a livelihood improvement programme where we are training the villagers on skills they can use to survive. We have trained them on how to produce cleaning products. We plan to sponsor a project for them to produce cleaning products which the mine will buy from them.
“We are also empowering youths with vocational skills. So far, we have registered 100 youths for enrollment at the Ntlafatso Skills Training Centre in Mohale’s Hoek. Of these, 20 have started their training,” Mr Ralikariki said.
Speaking at the same ceremony, Mr Mokhothu praised Storm Diamonds for “improving the lives of the host community.”
“This is a major milestone by the mine. The improvement of the lives of local communities around them is what we expect of investors like them.
“We know what happened in the past between the Kao community and the mine management, and we must avoid the repeat of such incidents by protecting the interests of both the community and investors,” Mr Mokhothu said.
He implored the mine management to come up with empowerment programmes for the villagers centering on “indigenous life skills such as raising livestock as this is where their strength lies”.
On his part, the local legislator, Tumahole Lerafa, chided the mine for taking too long to relocate the villagers, saying such delays in implementing agreed positions should not be repeated in future as this caused conflicts between the investor and the host community.
It remains to be seen if the company’s efforts will be enough to placate the militant villagers who have fought running battles with the police and the mine over their grievances.
It appears the villagers are not satisfied with the mine’s efforts thus far.
‘Manaleli Molefi, the chairperson of the Kao community liaising committee, said were unhappy that the relocated villages were not given land to plough.
“The new village is also located far from schools which will be a challenge for the children,” Ms Molefi said.
Her sentiments were echoed by one of the relocated villagers, Mpho Makhethe, who said he was unhappy with the monetary compensation he had received from the mine.
“My major concern is that I will be receiving a yearly lump sum as compensation for the fields that I lost. It is not enough and should be doubled and paid out twice a year,” Mr Makhethe said. He however, refused to say how much he was getting