Kao, Letšeng implicated in human rights violation


Bereng Mpaki

LETŠENG and Kao diamond mines have been fingered by the Kimberly Process Civil Society Coalition (KP CSC) for violation of human rights in Lesotho’s mining sector.

The recently released report titled Real Care is Rare says “the diamond sector is at cross-roads” with urgent need to balance its precious commodity amid the brutal violence and gross injustices within the sector.

The KP CSC is a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that amplifies the voices of communities affected by diamond mining and seeks to align the diamond sector with standards of good governance and responsible corporate conduct. The KP CSC is the civil society observer to the Kimberley Process.

The Kimberly Process is an international mechanism intended to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds onto the global market through the implementation of an import and export certification scheme applicable to rough diamonds.

KP CSC members come from Africa, the world’s principal diamond producing continent. They include representatives from Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Lesotho, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.

Lesotho is represented by the Maluti Community Development Forum (MCDF) in the KP CSC.

Formed in 2013, MCDF advocates for the rights of communities affected by mining operations especially in Mokhotlong where Letšeng Diamonds operates.

In the report, KP CSC highlighted that Letšeng’s operations were polluting the host community’s water sources, affecting their farming activity which is their major source of livelihoods. The report also noted Kao mine’s fatal community protests as indicative of trampling of human rights in the sector.

“In Lesotho…contamination from diamond mine slime dams and tailings is alleged to be undermining the livelihoods of local communities in the Mokhotlong district, among others,” the report says.

“For example, water contamination from Gem Diamonds’ Letšeng Diamond Mine, is alleged to be causing serious harm to local wetlands. Communities in this area depend on subsistence farming and livestock rearing. They allege that water contamination from the mine has increasingly forced them to compete with one another for access to clean water, with some reporting severe sickness from recycled water provided by the mine in an attempt to address water stresses.

“They further allege substantial drops in production levels as a result of environmental degradation occasioning livestock sickness and decreasing space for grazing. In other areas, mine blasts, which can average three a week, are said to have damaged and even destroyed buildings in the vicinity to such an extent that affected families feel insecure.”

The report however, says Gem Diamonds has refuted the allegations, instead referring to the sustainability section of its website for information about its social and environmental policies.

“Community representatives assert that an outcry about such issues is yet to be answered by both relevant government agencies and companies in the region. Here, community protests about similar such issues concerning Namakwa Diamonds’ Kao Mine reportedly culminated in the deaths of two local demonstrators in 2018.

“In these instances, adversely affected communities in Lesotho feel that they have yet to see the true development benefits of their country’s considerable diamond riches, despite $370 million worth of KP certified diamonds being exported from Lesotho in 2018 alone.”

Kao Mine is operated by Storm Mountain Diamonds (Pty) Limited. Storm Diamonds (SMD) is jointly owned by South African company, Namakwa Diamonds Limited (75 percent shareholding) and the government (25 percent).

SMD’s Malehlohonolo Mojaki yesterday said the narrative of the report was too simplistic and incorrect. She said the company experienced a difficult 2018 in which it tried everything possible to understand the cause of social conflict that plagued Kao during that year.

“Unfortunately, the narrative reported in the Real Care is Rare document is simplistic and not correct. It is also the easy narrative to push — the mine as the big bully. The truth is that the causes of the social conflict are multi-faceted.

“There is no doubt that the fact that the mine is located in the midst of rural communities affects these communities. The mine’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and other programmes and policies seek to mitigate and alleviate the negative effects, and the overarching objective of the programme is to improve the lives and livelihoods of community members despite the mine in their midst,” Ms Mojaki said.

She also said SMD had found evidence that third parties, including an NGO, planned in 2018 to destabilise the Kao community. She added that efforts by the mine to manage its relationship with the community were sabotaged.

The result was unlawful protest action by the community, supported by the NGO, which led to violent confrontation between the police and the community, with SMD rendered a powerless spectator, she said.

“SMD supports the objectives of the KP CSC. Active civil society must be encouraged. However, if it peddles false and stereotyped narratives, then it defeats the purpose of its existence. SMD was not asked to comment on the allegations made against it in the report before it was published.

SMD is a socially responsible corporate citizen and is committed to the protecting the wellbeing of the communities surrounding its operations. SMD is happy to report that community relations have improved tremendously in 2019,” Ms Mojaki said.

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