THE Kolo community in Mafeteng is increasingly restive over the delays in the commencement of full-scale diamond mining operations by Reskol Diamond Mining Company after completion of trial mining in October last year.
Reskol announced last October that it would soon begin full scale mining after a successful trial phase which commenced in 2016.
The company said full scale mining would only begin after it had relocated villagers whose homes were within the leased mining area. The relocation exercise is supposed to be preceded by the recording and valuation of affected villagers’ assets and the community had anticipated the process would start last month.
The Kolo community says it is worried that the mining operations are taking too long to begin.
In a recent interview with the Lesotho Times, the community representative ‘Mamahlape Hlapane said they were in the dark as to when the full-scale mining would commence.
Ms Hlapane, who is the chairperson of the natural resources committee of Kolo community liaising with the mine, said the lack of progress at the mine has delayed the creation of jobs which the community desperately needs.
“Apart from the introduction of a consultant to the community leaders in December 2018, nothing much has taken place since October last year,” Ms Hlapane said.
“We had proposed to Reskol that the recording and evaluation of villagers’ assets should be done during the December holidays when people were at home but their consultant told us he did not have the necessary funds.
“This means that the exercise will have to wait for the Easter holidays for everyone to be at home again,” she added.
Ms Hlapane said they had since asked the parliamentary committee on natural resources to find another mining company to take over from Reskol since it appeared to drag its feet.
“We told the natural resources committee that if Reskol does not have adequate finances to start full scale mining, they should allow other companies with the requisite financial muscle to take over because many people are looking at the mine for job opportunities.”
She further said they were still awaiting the fulfilment of infrastructure development promises which were made in the presence of the Mining Minister Keketso Sello in October last year. Reskol promised that it would ensure there was a reliable water supply, electricity and it would rehabilitee the roads in the area.
Ms Hlapane said the community was tired of mining companies taking turns to come to Kolo and take away whatever they find before passing the project onto someone else while there is no notable positive impact on the lives of the host communities.
“We are tired of these companies which seem to be taking the people of Kolo for granted. They take turns to prospect for diamonds and depart without leaving anything tangible for us.
“Now we are forced to believe that the companies are benefiting something from the continued prospecting instead of full-scale production as Reskol has taken two years instead of a forecasted six months,” Ms Hlapane said.
Kolo has an estimated 1, 3 million tonnes of kimberlite which is believed contain 110 000 carats. Reskol said it spent over M65 million during the trial mining phase.
The announcement for completion of trial mining came after over two years of trial mining, which was initially expected to take no more than six months.
However, the mine encountered challenges which delayed its operations. These included unexpected discoveries of human remains which were followed by protracted reburial processes.
When such discoveries were made the community wanted the mine operations to suspend operations until the remains have been re- buried in a mass funeral. There were two re-burials in 2017 and 2018.
In 2017 Reskol also experienced a technical problem when its crusher broke down due to the unexpected hardness of the kimberlite rock in the area. The plant breakdown caused a four months break.
A subsidiary of a South African company Batla Minerals, Reskol owns 90 percent shares of the mine with the remainder being held by the government. The company obtained a mining lease July 2011 but ran into legal challenges which only ended in 2015.
Reskol succeeded Angel Diamonds which had been prospecting since 2006.
For his part, Mining Minister Keketso Sello said the company was scheduled to have started evaluating villagers’ assets in December and he was not aware of any changes to the plans.
“As far as I am concerned, the company is preparing to go into full production and therefore it is supposed to be conducting pubic consultations on the assets of villagers that are to be affected when they go full scale.
“We are aware that the villagers’ land is to be affected, so the consultations are meant to establish the extent to which these assets will be affected and how much compensation would be needed,” Mr Sello said.
“Our interest is to see that the people are not robbed and this may be a challenge in the absence of a law on compensation.”
He said valuation process is expected to take about six months.