MASERU — A local consortium has threatened to sue Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki (pictured left) for allegedly elbowing the group out of the picture when awarding prospecting rights for a diamond mine in Butha-Buthe.
The consortium says Moleleki was wrong in giving the Lemphane Diamond Mine rights to a company owned by tycoon Sam Matekane when the minister had allegedly promised the group the rights.
And the group has vowed to fight tooth and nail to force Moleleki to reverse his decision.
The consortium resolved to take legal action against the minister at a stormy meeting on Tuesday night.
The group alleges that Moleleki hoodwinked them into believing he would give them prospecting rights for the mine if they formed a consortium.
Consequently, the businesspeople say, they formed the consortium, Motete Mining.
The consortium was made up of Mohau Thakaso’s Pegasus Mining, Kotkol Mining owned by lawyer ’Molotsi Kolisang and Kenken Mining controlled by Kennedy Lefothane.
Majoe-a-’Nete owned by Butha-Buthe businesswoman ’Makatleho Maepho and Gems Lesotho which belongs to Lefa Ntsike were also part of the consortium.
They however say soon after they formed the consortium Moleleki instead gave the Lemphane Diamond Mine rights to Matekane’s Meso Diamonds, which has already started work at the mine in Butha-Buthe.
The consortium, chaired by Thakaso, alleges that Meso Diamonds had not even applied for the rights in the first place.
Tuesday night’s meeting in Butha-Buthe was attended by Thakaso, Kolisang, Maepho, Majoe-a-’Nete and two other directors.
The Lesotho Times spoke to the angry businesspeople after the meeting which, was supposed to take 30 minutes, but ended up dragging on for up to two hours.
The secretary of the consortium, Lefothane, was however not at the meeting.
Sources close to the wrangle allege Lefothane is leading a pro-Moleleki faction in the consortium.
Lefothane has however declined to comment saying he would be breaching business ethics.
“These things are being dealt with internally and talking to you about them is tantamount to breaching my business ethics,” he said on Tuesday.
Thakaso, in an interview with the Lesotho Times, however said nothing would deter them from fighting Moleleki over Lemphane Diamond Mine.
He said apart from bringing companies that had not applied for the rights Moleleki “went further to elbow us out of business in favour of Matekane”.
Nonyana Ntsu, a company owned by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party, is among the companies that Moleleki is alleged to have brought into the picture despite the fact that it had not applied for the prospecting rights.
Thakaso alleged that Maximum Point and Dinaka tsa Moradi had also been surreptitiously brought on board.
He also said instead of bringing a big investor as promised, Moleleki head-hunted a South African company, Vermogen, which was to form a consortium, Lihlaba Mining, with Nonyana Ntsu and Motete Mining.
Vermogen had also not applied for a prospecting licence, Thakaso said.
“Moleleki was using Vermogen to attract investment and he failed,” Thakaso said.
“I don’t know what his plans were but all I can say is that we are entitled to mine at Lemphane and we are not going to allow him to do as he wishes.”
Moleleki however told the Sunday Express a fortnight ago that in the spirit of “inclusiveness” he had allowed the other four companies that had not initially applied for the rights to join in.
The minister said none of the companies that first applied for the rights had the technical expertise and financial capacity to operate Lemphane Diamond Mine.
But Thakaso has disputed Moleleki’s claims.
“Our investor is ready to finance our mining operations with M1.5 billion and Moleleki knows this well,” Thakaso told the Lesotho Times.
He said they already had M5 million to cover preliminary work at the mine.
The consortium, he said, also had an additional M10 million from its investor to fund bulk sampling.
“I don’t understand why Moleleki says we do not have financial capacity,” Thakaso said.
Even before Matekane came into the picture, members of the consortium were already complaining over the manner in which Moleleki was handling the awarding of the prospecting rights.
Kolisang was the first to question the handling of the rights when he, together with his Kotkol co-director Fred Kotze, wrote a letter to the commissioner of mines in March last year.
The letter was asking the commissioner to clarify the status of their application for the rights after other companies were roped in to form a consortium.
Kotkol claims to have been the first company to apply for the prospecting rights for Lemphane Diamond Mine.
In the letter, they said Moleleki’s promise of bringing an investor, which was interpreted as Basotho economic empowerment, was not clear as to “who it is that it empowers and how”.
They said after the formation of Motete Mining, another consortium called Lihlaba Mining was established including Motete, Nonyana Ntsu and Vermogen.
“We, as the original applicants, welcomed these developments as they constituted inter-corporate co-operation,” part of the letter says.
However, they wanted to know whether or not the mines ministry had “recognised and deliberated” over their dual corporate activities of Motete Mining and Lihlaba Mining.
“This is because in Motete our interest in shareholding was reduced to 1/6,” the letter says.
“When a prospecting licence was issued, Vermogen was granted 51 percent and our 1/6 shareholding in Motete was reduced to a miniscule 2 percent enclave because of the 51 percent awarded to Vermogen.”