THE Ministry of Mining was recently forced to intervene to diffuse another potentially explosive situation at Kolo diamond mine where villagers were up in arms against what they perceive to be a unilateral decision by the mine to extend its area of operations.
The mine recently expanded its fenced area by a width of 23 metres as it continues with its trial mining operations and this was viewed by the villagers as an encroachment into land which belonged to them.
Sensing danger after a series of often violent clashes between mines and their host communities, the Ministry of Mining on Friday organised a public meeting to clear the air over the issue.
The Mining ministry’s Principal Secretary, Soaile Mochaba, addressed the villagers and explained that the mine was within its rights to extend its fenced area as it had been allocated the entire area for its operations when it was awarded a mining licence in 2011.
Mr Mochaba said it was common for a mine operator to start by fencing only a part of its leased mining area and later expand to the rest of the area it had been allocated as its operations developed.
“Mine operators normally start by fencing the production area first even though they have been allocated a much larger mining area,” Mr Mochaba said.
Another ministry official, Mohato Moima, added that villagers whose livelihoods would be affected by the mine’s expansion would have to be compensated.
A mine official, Lehlohonolo Lesia, told the Sunday Express that they were within their rights to expand the fenced area as they continued with their mining activities.
He said the expansion was necessitated by the need to test a fourth type of kimberlite rocks as part of the trial mining phase.
He said while the other three had already been tested, the fourth type of kimberlite rock which was yet to be tested lay outside the area they had previously fenced- hence the need to expand.
Mr Lesia said the mine would compensate the affected households, adding they were open to suggestions from the community.
He however, conceded that they had not informed the community council about the expansion, something they had since rectified by sending official communication in writing.
Putsoane Leeto, the legislator for Kolo constituency, said the locals were not against the expansion of the mine, but were not happy with the manner in which it was done.
“The mine operator wants to portray the Kolo people as though they are unreasonable yet they have not followed the correct procedure (to expand their fenced area),” Mr Leeto said.
It was resolved that another meeting should been held soon to further discuss the issue.
The Kolo mine is operated by Batla Minerals who have a 90 percent stake in the mine. The government owns the remaining 10 percent shares.
The country’s diamond mines have been turned into theatres of conflict between the mines and the host communities.
The locals accuse mining companies of failing to give them first priority in terms of employment and they also accuse the companies of failing to spearhead meaningful development projects.
However, the companies have denied the claims and pointed to various developments including road construction, rehabilitation of school and health facilities and support for income generating projects as evidence of their commitment to the development of local communities.