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Kao saga takes new twist

  • A bloody war pitting two villages over the mine’s relocation plan looms  

THUSO MOSABALA

A protracted dispute simmering between the Storm Mountain Diamonds’ (SMD) Kao mine and the surrounding community has taken a new twist; this time igniting rivalry between two villages and threatening bloodbath.

The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has learnt of a recent tension between Tiping and Lihloahloeng villages in Kao following the mine’s plan to relocate 32 households from the former to Sekiring – a land the Lihloahloeng community argues belongs to them and cannot be used for the planned relocation.

Operated by the SMD since 2010, the Kao diamond mine plans to relocate the 32 households, housing more than 74 persons, from Tiping and find them a new location following its intention to expand operations in line with its mining lease.

The households are currently located within an area designated for dumping the mine’s tailings or waste ore, the Centre observed.

In March 2016, the mine released a public notice about its intentions to expand operations and a relocation plan for the Tiping households that would be affected. Among others, the notice provided that the mine envisaged an expansion that would require some of the Tiping area to be used as the mine’s “new tailings dump site”.

The notice highlighted the mine’s plan, noting: “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”.

But it is the mentioning of the Sekiring area that has stirred a dispute between the parties, recently igniting bloodbath threats between the two villages.

The Lihloahloeng villagers say they are hellbent to defend the area they argue has for ages been pastural for grazing of their livestock.

The Tiping households had also voiced their discontentment against resettling at the area, telling the Centre that it was “uninhabitable, too remote and of high-altitude where frost and snow take longer to melt in winter”.

According to ’Maseaka Lekhela, who is a deputy chairperson of the community liaison committee that coordinates issues between the villagers and the mine, a tension between the two villages had since emerged, “and it has potential to incite bloodbath between the two neighbouring villages”.

Speaking to the Centre on the side-lines of a liaison committee capacity building workshop hosted by the Mines Ministry in conjunction with the Transformation Resource Centre at Ha-Sheshile, Kao last month, Lekhela showed how the Lihloahloeng villagers were up in arms in protest to the planned relocation of Tiping villagers to Sekiring.

According to Lekhela, the SMD’s predecessors, Kao Diamond Mine, had made it clear that its mining activities would not come in the direction of Tiping.

Kao Mine operated by Storm Mountain Diamonds

She said Sekiring was allocated to Lihloahloeng villagers “who were given a chance along with many others to apply for sites at Sekiring.”

Lekhela said the sites’ applications of many villagers from Lihloahloeng were successful although the area was yet to be surveyed.

She said there is a need for the mine to come up with an alternative way of dealing with the matter and “desist from attempts to employ forced relocation. I am afraid that this would lead to community clashes and deaths if not expeditiously addressed”.

Lekhela’s sentiments were further corroborated by the Kao Councillor Kamo Molefi, who told the Centre that people from Lihloahloeng had applied for the land in 2013 pending survey.

Molefi said he had approached the mine to make management “aware that their predecessor had returned Sekiring area to the people and that if they plan on relocating the community of Tiping there, they should first communicate the matter with the Lihloahloeng villagers.”

But his efforts went in vain, he said.

However, the villagers’ claims were disputed by the mine’s Corporate Chief Executive Officer Mohale Ralikariki, who told the Centre the allegations “were merely attempts of those who appear to be closely associated with the disgruntled mine community liaison committee members who are working together to sabotage the relocation project”.

According to Ralikariki, Sekiring was granted to the mine to use it for the relocation of Tiping villagers in 2008, “however the mine changed its designs and Tiping was only going to be needed at later stage for dumping of tailings, so the approval for the use of Sekiring which was granted by the Council was kept for later use”.

He said in 2016 they started consultations “with all the surrounding villages including Lihloahloeng on intentions of the mine to proceed with relocation and there were no issues recorded or raised by any village. We developed EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) documents for Sekiring, and then we informed the responsible council about the relocation project.

“The council is responsible for allocation of sites and it called a public gathering to inform all surrounding villages that Sekiring was going to be used by the mine for relocation of Tiping village, Lihloahloeng was part of the invited village,” he said.

Kao mine has continuously been in the news for wrong reasons, spanning allegations of failure to compensate and give employment to the villagers. The villagers also accuse the mine of failing to implement meaningful development projects in the area.

On February 8 this year, a person died while two others were critically injured when violent clashes ensued between the police and villagers who were protesting against the alleged failures by the mine.

Kao mine is jointly owned by a South African company, Namakwa Diamonds Limited, which owns the SMD, and the Lesotho government. Namakwa controls 75 percent shares and the government takes 25.

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