Ticking time bomb in Kolo
. . . as villagers’ houses on verge of collapse due to mining activities
FOR 52-year-old ’Mamokuena Bulane, it is only a matter of time before one of her two cracked houses collapses because of operations at the nearby Reskol diamond mine in Kolo, Ha-Petlane.
Ms Bulane says the two houses were built by her late husband in 1984 and 1998, respectively, but began to crack in 2001 because of mining operations, which have been managed by different companies since 1993.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) can bear testimony to the enormous cracks on the sides and verandah of both houses.
The company could be on a collision course with the government over the issue.
Reskol Diamond Mining said this week that it is not responsible for the damage because it only began work on the site in October last year. It also said its corporate social responsibility policy did not apply to this and other community demands because the mine was still in a trial phase.
But in an interview, Mining Minister Keketso Sello disagreed, saying Reskol Diamond Mining “cannot turn a blind eye to the community’s demands” and that it “cannot claim the damage was caused by the previous mining company and fail to address those issues”.
Set in the heart of the Ha-Petlane village, the mine is just a stone’s throw from Ms Bulane’s backyard.
Ms Bulane – a widow and grandmother of four – says despite the “clearly” imminent danger posed by the mine to her family, she is disheartened by “endless broken promises” over the years by mine management to relocate or compensate all households adjacent to the mine.
“The lives of my grandchildren and mine are increasingly in danger. It’s only a matter of time before one of these houses falls down due to the heavy operations of the mine, which produce terrifying noises, shake the land and emit strong gases,” she told the MNNCIJ during a recent visit.
Ms Bulane owns the two houses, one of which is a relatively large two-roomed structure built from breeze-blocks and covered in black rough-cast, and the other a five-roomed house also built of breeze-blocks but not plastered.
Ms Bulane’s predicament is shared by other households in Ha-Petlane.
’Mankhakile Lephatši and ’Mamotšabi Tinte gave us similar accounts of damage to their houses.
MNNCIJ has learned that the Kolo community, which consists of 40 villages
including Ha-Petlane, lodged a series of grievances against Reskol’s
predecessor, Angel Diamonds.
In addition to complaints about damage to their houses, the community complained about impassable roads, water scarcity and lack of electricity, which residents were adamant the mine should provide under its corporate social responsibility policy.
The community also complains that mining operations have disrupted an ancestral gravesite in the area (see accompanying story).
Before Angel Diamonds set up in 2006, the Kolo mine had been informally operated by the community since 1993. The informal mining was put to an end through introduction of the Mining Act of 2005.
Reskol took over the mining rights in 2011 from Angel, which faced liquidation.
It did not start operations until much later because of a protracted dispute over the mining rights. The matter was finalised in the High Court in Reskol’s favour in 2015.
Reskol is a subsidiary of French-listed Batla Minerals, which has also been listed on the New York Stock Exchange’s Euronext since May 2007.
Batla Minerals focuses its mining operations in the southern Africa region.
In 2011, it entered a joint venture with the government of Lesotho on the Kolo Mine, which is about 35km southwest of Maseru. According to Batla Minerals, the Kolo kimberlite pipe has an estimated 1.3 million tons of kimberlite, containing an estimated 110 000 carats of diamonds.
The government owns 10 per cent of Reskol, which has a 10-year lease from the ministry of mining which expires in 2021.
Six years down the line, Reskol is still in the trial phase that is expected to be completed before the end of this year. If the mine is found to be commercially viable, full-scale production will then begin.
Reskol Director Mike Reynolds told the MNNCIJ there was no agreement under which Reskol had inherited the grievances of the Kolo community against the now defunct Angel. The community, Mr Reynolds argued, should raise its concerns with the government.
“There is no agreement of any handing over between Reskol and Angel.
“It is therefore not binding or obligatory for Reskol to inherit damage caused by Angel,” he said.
Mr Reynolds added that the company could not commit to any corporate social responsibility “until we have successfully tested the commercial viability of the mine and proceed to the next production phase”.
However, he said the company had agreed to relocate six households close to the mine.
“We earlier made a sacrifice to relocate six families affected by operations of the mine due to their proximity. We did this in consultation with the villagers through their committees, the chiefs and the Mafeteng district administrator.”
Mr Reynolds said the relocation process was halted when “it suddenly appeared” the number of families involved had increased from six to 15.
The other hiccup, Mr Reynolds further indicated, was that some families were not satisfied with the location identified by the district administrator’s office in consultation with the chiefs.
“We also had a problem that one of the first six families was not satisfied with the new location,” he said.
MNNCIJ saw the relocation settlement in question, which Ms Bulane dismissed in an interview as “isolated from other villages”.
Reskol Site Manager Lehlohonolo Lesia shared Mr Reynold’s sentiments, adding that the mine could not be held liable for any damage to houses because they were not using heavy machinery for crushing.
Instead of using heavy machinery for blasting operations, Mr Lesia saidthey were using “peckers” referring to machinery used to drill the kimberlite instead of blasting the kimberlite.
“The community cannot therefore claim any damages were caused by us,” he said.
Reskol currently employs 27 workers, according to Mr Lesia.
Mining Minister Sello told MNNCIJ in an interview it was obligatory for Reskol to make good the damage caused by Angel.
“Reskol cannot turn a blind eye to the community’s demands. It is the mine’s corporate responsibility to address issues of the community,” he said.
“They (Reskol authorities) cannot claim the damages were caused by the previous mining company and fail to address those issues. They are bound to inherit that damage.”
Following his recent appointment to office, the minister said he had yet to visit the Kolo mine “because I have realised there are outstanding issues that have hindered progress at the mine for quite long”.
MNNCIJ examined the Reskol project brief submitted to the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture in June 2011, which showed that that the mine had committed to relocating three households in Ha-Petlane.
It increased the number of households to five in its proposal to the Ministry of Mining in March 2014.
The National Environment Secretariat (NES) in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture also indicated this week that Reskol had to submit a resettlement plan to the department “before it can even start of thinking of relocating the households”.
NES Senior Environmental Officer Mammeli Makhate and Environmental Officer Tlalane Ramaema said recently that the plan had to be approved by the department.
“So far Reskol has not submitted its resettlement plan in line with mining laws. We cannot talk of relocation until the plan is in place,” Mr Makhate said.
He also said that after obtaining a mining lease in 2011, Reskol was required to obtain Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance from the ministry.
In a record of decision, the department told the company that the previous developer, Angel, had not reported to the department on the environmental compliance, monitory and effectiveness of its environmental management plan “in mitigating the identified negative impacts, in particular controversial social issues”.
Against this background, it advised Reskol to engage “a qualified environmental audit consultant to take stock of the current situation at the mine and map out the way forward to ensure proper management of both biophysical and social environmental impacts of the intended mine.”
This, the NES officials insisted, meant Reskol was regarded as having
inherited all damage caused at the mine prior to its commencement of
The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a non-governmental organisation which has closely monitored the situation at Kolo, also condemned the state of affairs in the area.
The TRC Programme Officer, Hlalele Hlalele, said the Ha Petlane community had got a raw deal and that the mine continued to violate their rights and customs.
Mr Hlalele also accused the Mining ministry of being “too lenient” in prescribing procedures that company needs to follow when dealing with the Kolo community.
Mr Hlalele argued that a project brief compiled by Angel Diamonds undermined the public participation processes in the mining of diamonds in Kolo. He said Reskol seems to be following in the footsteps of its predecessor.
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) produced this story
in association with the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative
Journalism. All views are ours. See www.lescij.org for our stories,
activities and funding sources. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org