- Locals forced to resign due to ill-treatment
- Major contractor, WBHO, accused of shielding white staffers abusing Basotho.
Mohalenyane Phakela / Moorosi Tsiane
SOUTH African construction giant, WBHO, has been accused of abusing Basotho it had hired to work at the multi-billion maloti Polihali Dam project.
As a result many Basotho are quitting in frustration.
White managers from WBHO have been accused of engaging in blatant racism, assaults and use of vulgar language against Basotho hired for the construction of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)’s Polihali Village in Mokhotlong.
The Village will be used to house LHDA staff once completed.
So dire is the situation that some of the locals have been forced to resign due to the ill-treatment by some WBHO white senior staffers from South Africa.
These incidents are likely to impact on the project because some of the victims who are resigning held key positions in the project. Although the Lesotho Times does not have the exact number of the people who have left because of the abuse, it is understood they held critical positions of contract managers, safety officers, environmental officers, quality assurance officers and community relations officers, among others. This abuse and staff exodus has been going on since June last year, the Lesotho Times further established this week.
WBHO formed a joint venture with local company, LSP Construction, and were awarded a tender by LHWP overseer, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), to construct the Polihali village, lodge and school in Malingoaneng, Mokhotlong. They started working on the project from
January 2022, with completion due in December this year.
According to a highly-placed source who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week, the WBHO management was continuously and freely ill-treating the locals. The source also said instead of taking disciplinary action against those alleged to have abused the locals WBHO, instead, sent them back to South Africa where they continued to work for the Mokhotlong project remotely.
“Just last week, a sub-contractor, Mohapi Lephallo, was attacked with a water spirit level until he choked. He was attacked by the WBHO’s staffer (name withheld), who also insulted Lephallo and further threatened to hit him with that tool should he scream,” the source said.
“Many other local employees are constantly subjected to abusive language by the white managers from WBHO. Sometime in February this year, one Rethabile Masiloane, resigned and opened a case of assault and being insulted by the then WBHO contracts manager (name also withheld). The culprit fled
back to South Africa after a case was opened against him with the police.
“What is interesting is that instead of this issue being addressed and a solution arrived at, the perpetrators are given the privilege of working remotely as opposed to being disciplined. For
instance, the accused contracts manager still runs operations at Polihali because there are emails from him which are being sent to staff in Lesotho and he still makes certain decisions remotely.
“Some white managers from WBHO think it’s appropriate to insult and beat Basotho but they do not subject white employees of equal positions to the same treatment. They would rather wine and dine with them.
“There are also other subtle but dangerous tendencies of racism that are concealed by WBHO. For instance, the white employees often participate in social events organised by white managers where the black employees are left out,” the source further said.
Mr Lephallo, who is the managing director of KaymonCon Pty Ltd, which has been sub-contracted by the WBHO-LSP Joint Venture (JV), also confirmed yesterday that he was subjected to physical abuse by one of the managers, who is his immediate supervisor, on Thursday last week. He claimed to have reported the incident to management of both the LSP and WBHO and been told the matter was being dealt with internally.
“On 6 July 2023, I was assaulted by my immediate supervisor. I filed an official compliant to both the management on site and at the offices away from the (Polihali) village. They promised to deal with my issue as swiftly as possible, saying this was not how they wanted their brand to be perceived.
“The LSP management was very remorseful, and promised to deal with this matter as deeply and widely as they could. I am deliberately withholding the name of the perpetrator to allow peaceful negotiations and for the internal remedies to be applied.
“I am confident that both the management of LSP and WBHO will do what is fair so that we find peace and harmony to work together going forward. It will be their discretion whether they want to keep my abuser on site. I am confident that the management of both LSP and WBHO will get to the
bottom of this to ensure that our sites are safe and healthy, mentally and physically, and that there is equal treatment of both blacks and whites,” Mr Lephallo said.
He also said although this was his first physical confrontation he had had with his bosses, there had been a myriad of cases of verbal abuse which they tried to manage internally.
“For a while since last year, there has been a lot of verbal abuse which we tried to manage so that we do not lose our jobs. This has affected my health so much, causing me a lot of stress and depression, to say the least,” said Mr Lephallo.
On the other hand, Mr Masiloane would not discuss his case with the Lesotho Times, but only said the issue was being handled by the police. He also said he did not feel comfortable to comment as he was no longer working at that project. The Lesotho Times could not immediately verify the claim with the police last night.
“The matter was dealt with by the police and I am no longer working for that company, so I do not want to comment on it,” said Mr Masiloane.
This publication was further informed that there was also a Mosotho lady, name withheld, who was working as a quantity surveyor, and had also resigned between February and March this year after she was allegedly abused. It was not clear how the lady was abused and efforts to hear her side of the story were in vain as her mobile phones were unreachable until this publication went to print last night.
Contacted for comment, LSP human resources officer, Moitsépi Letsie, said their company had taken measures to address the issues of abuse by engaging their partner, WBHO.
“These issues of ill-treatment of staff were first brought to our attention around winter last year, although I do not recall the exact date. We then engaged WBHO over the issues and they sounded remorseful and promised to deal with them. We continued under the impression that corrective measures could be implemented internally without drawing any public attention.
“Similar incidents were again reported early this year and the WBHO’s then manager, who I cannot mention by name, was replaced as a complaint had been levelled against him,” said Mr Letsie.
“We are doing all we can to find a solution to this matter because it is bad for production. We are hoping for swift corrective measures so that we can be able to meet our December deadline.”
On his part, WBHO’s contracts manager at Polihali Village, Hugos Neethlin, refrained from responding to this publication’s enquiry and referred the Lesotho Times to LSP managing director, Louis Fourie.
“I have forwarded your details to Louis, and he will contact you,” Mr Neethlin simply said via WhatsApp.
Contacted for comment yesterday, LHDA Public Relations Manager, Mpho Brown, said the allegations of abuse had just been brought to their attention by this publication for the first time. Mr Brown, however, said the LHDA had immediately initiated investigations into the matter and appropriate measures would be implemented.
“We have only just become aware of this issue. The consultant’s supervising engineer has been made aware of the issue and they are looking into the matter.
“As the representative of the employer, they will give the LHDA a report regarding details of the incidents in question and the action they have taken in response.
“The LHDA is confident that once all the information is received, appropriate action will be taken by the
employer (WBHO) with the relevant employees. As supervisors of the implementation of the project, the LHDA is committed to ensuring that all labour-related issues are resolved swiftly in accordance with the laws of Lesotho by ensuring that they are followed and complied with,” Mr Brown said.