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Tensions persist at Kao Mine

by Sunday Express
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Nthatuoa Koeshe/Herbert Moyo

THE problems between the Kao Mine and the local community in the Butha Buthe district are far from over with the company accusing unnamed government officials of inciting villagers to cause chaos situation “which is not conducive for the sustainability of operations and investor confidence”.

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).

There has been simmering tension between the mine and the locals who accuse the mine of reneging on its commitment to compensate them for relocation from their homes to pave way for the mine as well as the failure to give them jobs. 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. The mine has even offered employment to the widow of   Terene Pitae who was shot dead by police in February and even offered compensation to his family and other victims of the skirmishes.

However, this has not been enough to placate the locals who joined with mine workers in staging a protest against the mine from Wednesday to Friday. The protest prompted the management to close the mine for the duration of the protests.

Equipment was vandalised during the protests and the company says the locals also trespassed on the mining lease area.

“On 25 April 2018 members of the local community embarked on an unlawful protest on the public road outside the mine,” the company said in a statement yesterday.

“Shortly thereafter local employees (Kao community members) by way of threats and intimidation, forced mine employees to down tools. This caused the mine to stop. Mobilised members of the local community, over the following days, vandalised mine property and trespassed on the mining lease area. They continued to threaten mine employees.”

The management described the protest as an “ambush” as it said it never received notification of the intention to strike.

“The mine and the community, via their community committee and their representative, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) have been in regular dialogues regarding community issues. The Ministry of Mining is also involved. No notice of the protest was received from the community or their stakeholders yet it has been reported that members of the TRC were present at the protest.

“The actions by the protesting community members and employees are unreasonable and unlawful,” the company said.

The company’s claims regarding the vandalising of property were backed up by the Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Motlohi Maliehe who said that the locals had admitted to vandalising some property to get the mine’s attention.

Mr Maliehe visited the mine on Friday together with the Minister of Mining Keketso Sello.

“We found that the community had cut water pipes and the community admitted that they cut the pipes to get the mine’s attention so that they talk and find the solutions their grievances.

“One of the grievances was that the mine was not employing many locals and we agreed that the mine should withdraw the suspension letters which were handed out to some of the locals hired at the mine. We also agreed that the pipes should be fixed so that the mine resumes its operations,” Mr Maliehe said.

He said as a legislator from Butha Buthe, they had been fighting the mines for a long time over their failure to fulfil their promises to the communities in which they operated and it was time they found a solution.

He said a five member ministerial delegation would visit Kao this week to discuss the impasse.

The ongoing conflict has not gone down well with the management who have defended their track record since taking over the mine in 2010.

The company said it had “invested significantly in community projects and infrastructure since it started operating at Kao”.

“These (investments) include the investment of more than M110 million bringing the powerline to Kao (Liqhobong invested a similar amount), which enables the government to draw power from the line to communities. The company has also built and maintains a 30 kilometre access road to Tlaeeng, which links the mine and its communities to the rest of the country. The company has started a current status needs analysis of community needs, which has been interrupted by the recent (protest) events.

“There is an unreasonable demand on the company to also build a road to Ha Lejone,” the company said.

The company also suggested that the disturbances were caused by certain government officials who incited the locals.

“(The situation where the) local community seems to be spurred on by certain government representatives, is not conducive for sustainability of operations and investor confidence.

“To build mines requires massive capital. To keep operating requires large amounts of stay-in-business capital. This requires foreign investment on a continuous basis. In the government/investor partnership, the government must provide a conducive environment for investment to take place.

“Inaction can jeopardise the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of Basotho, as well as the very significant contribution the (mining) industry makes to the fiscus,” the company said.



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