By Thuso Mosabala and Billy Ntaote
A long-drawn-out dispute between Storm Mountain Diamond (SMD) and Kao communities took a new twist recently when villagers shot down the mine’s plans to relocate their homes affected by its extractive activities.
The mine is set to relocate 32 households located in the Tiping village in Kao to Sekiring, a location described by the villagers as uninhabitable as it’s “too remote and of high-altitude where frost and snow take longer to melt in winter”.
The villagers also refuse to be relocated to Sekiring citing the place is far from basic needs like water sources and schools.
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) has learnt these 32 households, housing more than 74 people, must be relocated to a new location as they are currently within the SMD mining lease area now designated for dumping the mine’s tailings or waste ore.
Some of the households were destroyed by sludge from the mine during the heavy rains season and had since been identified for relocation.
Villagers at Tiping had also voiced their concerns against the mining activities posing danger such as fly rocks and dust.
But the villagers are now up in arms and protesting against their relocation arguing the mining company is imposing on them unfavourable location of Sekiring.
Tseko Ratia, a man representing these beleaguered Tiping households that are visibly neighbouring and surrounding the mine’s premises, told the Centre in an interview on the side-lines of a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment Review meeting held at the mine’s premises last week that SMD was imposing onto the villagers an uninhabitable location.
Ratia is a chairman of a community liaison committee representing the Kao community on engagement with the mine.
He told the Centre he shares the disheartened Tiping villagers’ sentiments on their relocation to Sekiring.
“Our people are subsistence farmers like many other communities in Lesotho and Sekiring place does not have arable land to grow crops and it is very cold due to its high altitude,” he said.
Ratia was however quick to note that some of the villagers have already accepted to be relocated as long as they are free to choose their own desired place to relocate to.
Sekiring refers to a place designated specially for wool and mohair shearing sheds.
The mine, popularly referred to as Kao mine, has been operated by SMD since 2010. 75 percent of the mining company’s shareholding is owned by Namakwa Diamonds, a South African based company, while 25 percent remainder is owned by government.
The Centre has learnt public consultations on relocations were last made by the mining company following the release of a public notice dated 16-22 March 2016.
The public notice was about mining company’s intensions to expand its operations within its existing Mine Lease Area at its diamond mine at Kao.
According to the public notice, under the expansion program, the mining company envisaged the expansion of the mine premises to enclose the 32 households located in Tiping village.
The notice further mentioned that envisaged mine expansion would require use of the Tiping area valley as the mining company’s “new tailings dump site”.
The notice also mentioned that expansion included the: “resettlement and compensation of the Tiping households; construction of their new resettlement village at Sekiring area; re-evaluation of current compensation arrangements for affected households and compensation for their Tiping West Valley located fields” which are used as a slimes and tailings containment facility presently by the mining company. Click here to see more stories on kao mine.
Since the advent of relocation of the Tiping households, five families have since been successfully relocated from Tiping to Lihloahloeng by the SMD’s predecessor miner as the households were very close to its yard and were greatly affected during the mining activities, especially by blasting and explosions.
Morero Kente, one of the villagers who resided at Tiping since 1992, argued against plans to relocate them to Sekiring as “…is high altitude area and inhabitable”.
“Sekiring is very high, and it is very cold, I wonder if life would be bearable if we agreed to be relocated,” he said.
Kente, told the Centre, in a comment on the mining company’s activities that they were adversely affected with their arable land “completely covered by the heaps of waste from the mine”.
“The first mining company had initially promised that its mining activities will not come to our village direction, but these ones (SMD) are coming towards our direction; hence the need to relocate us.”
Kente concludes that “we do not have a problem of relocating, but we will only leave this place if they agree that a person should decide where he or she wants to go.
“What we need from the mine is transparency, we want them to give us everything we had and we should be able to see that ourselves that it is happening.
“With regard to our arable land, we agreed with my other brothers that the mine should give us the amount of money we want.”
He further furiously exclaims that “they should give us what we want and we will give them what they want, so that we do not bother each other ever again”.
Another Tiping resident ’Makeneuoe Lebona, since 1988, admits she was aware of the relocation plans.
“We have been told this place we are residing at is owned by the mine therefore we have to be relocated.”
“We understand this land no longer belongs to us, we do not contest that, but what we demand is for the mine to do what we want.
“I for one want to be relocated next to basic needs and services like schools for my children, where there are access roads, clinics, and every other service that one needs like the banks. I am now looking out for my children’s future,” she said.
She raised her continued worries that the mining company does not want Tiping villagers to choose their own desired places to be relocated to.
’Makeneuoe said she chose to live her life in Tiping due to ease of access to water sources, good pastures for animals and arable land for ploughing.
She further notes “I was able to plough and feed my children before this mining company arrived, now that they are saying they want to relocate us; I am going to be greatly affected”.
’Makeneuoe adds that she does not trust the mining company will keep its promises.
She raised a concern that plans to relocate them to Sekiring, expose them to possible conflicts with people living in Lihloahloeng village as that would be relocating us to their arable land used for growing crops.
However, ’Makeneuoe concedes that relocating from Tiping must happen as the mining activities affected them negatively.
She also notes that “we want to see our demands met and most important us, we also want to know how they will handle the exhumation and relocation of our fore-fathers’ grave yards which we believe should be at their expenses also”.
Contacted for comment the SMD’s Corporate Chief Executive Officer Mohale Ralikariki, told the Centre, Communities will receive more than what they leave behind when relocated.
“SMD’s intention is to leave the communities around the mine in a better position during and at the end of the mine’s life to that they were in before.
“They are being given decent houses and the rest of other needs are also being considered including employment of local people and corporate social responsibility investments into income generating projects for them as Kao communities at our expense,” said Ralikariki.
A report by Sechaba Consultants presented to Social and Environmental Impact Assessment Review meeting also attended by Ratia and rights group Transformation Resources Centre for the communities highlighted that Sekiring is a desirable place to relocate the Tiping households.
Sechaba Consultants’ report to the meeting highlighted that “some of the villagers had said they would agree to be relocated to Sekiring if relocation included: quality housing, a well-planned village, with other essential services such as water, toilets, and constructed access roads”.
Sechaba Consultants was the company commissioned to undertake a comprehensive social impact assessment of the mine in Kao by the mining company.