Letšeng, villagers fight – specialist weighs in


Bereng Mpaki

LETŠENG Diamonds and the Patising communities must jointly conduct an investigation into the mine’s safety of its slime dams, a United States (US) consultant has said.

Steven Emerman of Malach Consulting said this last month in his confirmatory affidavit filed in support of the Patising community in its case against Letšeng Diamonds. The affidavit was filed after Letšeng Diamonds chief executive officer Kelebone Leisanyane’s own affidavit filed in the High Court in September this year.

Mr Leisanyane’s affidavit was filed in response to the Patising community’s suit to compel the mine to relocate them.

The villagers filed their court application in August this year. They want the mine to relocate them to a safer place as they are living in constant fear that the mine’s slime dams could burst any time. The dams are located on a hill overlooking the village and if they burst, the villagers are worried that they could endanger their lives.

Letšeng Diamonds, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Mining Tšokolo Maina and Attorney General Advocate Tsebang Putsoane are cited as first to third respondents respectively.

The villagers also claimed that the mine’s operations were contaminating the water from a nearby stream which they use for their daily activities rendering it harmful.

But in his answering affidavit, Mr Leisanyane said the villagers’ claims were inaccurate.

“It is correct that Letseng is of the view that its dams are safe,” Mr Leisanyane said.

“It is not correct that simply because Letseng has provided equipment to deal with an unlikely emergency this means that Letseng’s dams are not safe.”

He said the risks associated with the dams’ safety are managed continuously by a contractor and a dedicated team of staff who conduct regular inspections to ensure their safety and stability.

“Independent professional engineers are involved. So is the operating contractor. So too are dedicated Letseng employees. These people are constantly monitoring the dams for cracks, sloughing, erosion, tunneling wet spots or seepage. All this is geared towards safety and to guard against the failure of the dams.

“The foundations of the dams are also checked regularly. A side slop stability analysis is conducted on an ongoing basis. Structural stability analysis is also conducted. Geo-technical material properties are also checked.

“In Letseng’s view, its dams are safe. The dams are not “a disaster waiting to happen” nor do the applicants need to live in “constant fear”. All this has been variously and repeatedly communicated to the people in the villages around the Letseng mine, including Patising.”

He also argues that the allegations of water contamination are misplaced. Instead, he says the contamination of water may be a result of repeated water usage by the villagers.

Therefore, the mine cannot be held liable for the villagers’ choice to continue using dirty water when they can fetch clean water for domestic use.

“What the applicants do not disclose is that Letseng has constructed a potable water supply system where water is collected and pumped to a reservoir above the Patising village and released to the village. During this process, the water is also chlorinated and made safe for consumption by the community.

“Letseng’s investigations have disclosed that people from Patising use the water they collect over and over again. In the process bacteria gets into polluted water. This in turn, after many uses, renders it unsafe… This has nothing to do with water contamination caused by Letseng. Letseng cannot accept responsibility for people using potable water over and over until it becomes bacterially infected which in turn renders it unfit for washing,” Mr Leisanyane said.

And in his confirmatory affidavit in support of the applicants, Dr Emerman, whose Malach Consulting specialises in groundwater and mining, said the two parties must collaborate in an investigation of the dams’ safety and report back to court.

While Mr Leisanyane’s affidavit contains a list of inspections, it does not contain any information about the safety of the dams.

“The story is that first respondent is doing audits or implementing some standards, but there is not any outcome or data from those audits which speak to the safety of the dams. Without actual engineering reports such as dam safety audits, there is no way the court can be in a position to determine the safety or otherwise of the dams.

“I would therefore, for the benefit of the court, suggest that experts for both parties be allowed to participate in the proceedings in the form of actually visiting the dams, carrying out own investigations and filing independent reports or even appearing before court if necessary. It is only in that way that the court can reach a well-informed decision regarding the safety or otherwise of the dams,” Dr Emerman said.



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