TENSIONS boiled over at recent meeting between locals and representatives of the Mothae Mine in Mokhotlong with angry villagers accusing the mine of embarking on a shadowy recruitment exercise which excluded them despite the fact that the mine is located in their area.
Mothae Mine is located close to the high dollar-per carat gem producer, Letšeng Diamonds in Mokhotlong. It was put up for sale by the government in February 2016 after prospective buyer, Paragon Diamonds Limited, failed to secure the requisite funding within the given time frame.
In April 2017, the government awarded mining rights to the Australia-based Lucapa Diamond Company to develop the mine which had been idle since 2015.
Company documents seen by the Lesotho Times indicate that the trial mining at Mothae, since Lucapa took over, had produced more than 23 000 carats of diamonds with sales exceeding US$17 million.
This led Lucapa to draw up a development plan in October 2017, which outlines proposals to move into phased commercial production in the second half of this year.
The company hire staff when it commenced trial mining operations but the nature of the recruitment process has however, torched a storm with the locals who say there is no transparency in the process, resulting in their exclusion.
Speaking on behalf of the Mapholaneng community, Mathato Moela, demanded to know the criteria which the mine used to recruit, saying it had never bothered to inform the locals that there were any vacancies for them to apply.
Ms Moela accused the company of favouritism, alleging that it was in fact hiring the children and relatives of the area councillor.
“We are aware that only our councillor’s children were hired at the mine and so we want to know the criteria the mine used to hire those people,” Ms Moela said, adding time and again they would just see vehicles arrive in the village to collect a few people who are then hired to work at the mine.
For his part, Mining Minister, Keketso Sello, bemoaned what he said was a tendency by mining companies to pay lip service to the concerns of local communities in the areas where they operated.
“We cannot deal with the same issue over and over at every mine in the country whenever there is gathering with the community. This has to stop,” Mr Sello said, adding that the mines must take the corporate social responsibility seriously and empower locals.
Mothae Mine representative, Keketso Tshabalala, said that the company had not commenced full scale mining hence the recruitment of a limited number of people.
“Compared to Kao or Letseng mines, Mothae is a very small mine and we will hire will be way less than other mines,” Ms Tshabalala said. She said they would hire at least 200 people after winter.
Mothae Mine Site Inspector, Jonathan Molapo, advised the community to elect a committee which will work with the mine to address the community’s concerns.
Mr Molapo also suggested that the locals could explore other avenues of benefitting from the presence of the mine including setting up businesses to supply items such as food to the mine.