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Mokhotlong must reap rewards

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LETSENG Diamonds on Tuesday announced it had dug up a magnificent 196-carat rough white diamond, the fourth gem from the mine to make international waves.

Predictably, the announcement was made in London – thousands of kilometres away from the poverty-stricken Mokhotlong district where Letseng Diamonds operates the mine.

The villagers who live around the mine are most likely unaware of the discovery of the massive stone.

They have no clue that the pastures and mountains they were driven from to give way to the mine were concealing a precious stone that would tickle the international media.

Not that they necessarily have to know.

After all Letseng Diamonds is 70 percent owned by the London-listed Gem Diamonds, with the government of Lesotho taking up the remaining 30 percent.

The gem, looking at the improving rough diamond prices on the international market, is expected to fetch a damn good price.

Over the past five years Letseng Diamonds has unearthed some of the biggest high-quality gems ever recovered in the world.

The 603-carat Lesotho Promise which was dug up in 2006 holds the record of being the largest diamond that has been discovered over the past 10 years.

The Lesotho Promise was the 15th largest stone ever mined and fetched a staggering US$12.4 million.

In 2007, the 493-carat Letseng Legacy was also recovered to become the 18th largest stone ever found.

It fetched US$10.4 million on the market.

A year later a 478-carat stone, dubbed Light of Letseng, was also recovered and sold for US$18.4 million.

Every time these exceptional stones are discovered — and announced abroad — I can’t help but notice the ironies abound.

That the district that has over the past four years produced four of the world’s amazing diamonds is the one of the poorest in the country should be a cause for concern.

I have no doubt Letseng Diamonds will be quick to flash its corporate social responsibility programme which includes funding bright students.

But any serious mine would be embarrassed to do so little.

I have no idea what plans Letseng Diamonds has for Mokhotlong.

But I know how mining companies elsewhere have changed the communities from which they operate.

The very Johannesburg that we admire, one of the world’s leading financial centres, was founded on mining.

In recent years, we have seen how platinum has positively touched the lives of the Bafokeng clan in South Africa’s North-West province.

The Bafokeng survived mainly on farming until the discovery of the Merensky Reef, one of the richest platinum deposits in the world, in 1924.

For decades Bafokeng did not enjoy any benefits from their own resources which were being exploited by capitalist companies until they stood up for themselves.

In 1999 they obtained a legal settlement that gave them a 22 percent royalty on all platinum mined from their territory.

They also got shareholding in Impala and the value of Bafokeng’s stake had tripled to more than US$50 million by 2001.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Visit Phokeng and Rustenburg today and see what real empowerment means.

Letseng Diamonds and all other mining companies operating in Lesotho must not wait for local communities to take them to court in future generations.

If they are responsible enough, Mokhotlong, for example, must become Lesotho’s economic hub in the not-too-distant future.

And do I hear someone asking what the government does with the dividends from the mining operations?

Well, governments by their nature have national interests and are prone to channel such proceeds towards areas they deem they are needed most.

Imagine then what 0.05 percent from the sale of the latest gem to be discovered in Mokhotlong would do for the backward district!

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