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Minister refutes claims of interests in Kao Mine

by Lesotho Times
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Pascalinah Kabi

MINING Minister Keketso Sello has reacted angrily to allegations that he has interests in the troubled Kao Mine and he is protecting the mine from parliamentary scrutiny and censure for its alleged failure to compensate villagers for relocation from their homes to pave way for the mine as well as the failure to give them jobs.

Mr Sello dismissed as untrue allegations by some sources that he holds shares in a scrap metal company that was engaged by the mine to collect scrap metal.

The minister also said it was not true he used his visit to the mine on the night before mine officials were due to host a delegation of parliamentary portfolio committee on Natural Resources to influence the mine management to snub the committee.

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 shareholding).

There has been simmering tension between the mine and the locals who accuse the mine of reneging on its commitment to compensate them for relocation from their homes to pave way for the mine as well as the failure to give them jobs. The villagers also accuse the mine of failing to implement meaningful development projects in the area.

One person died and two others were critically injured on 8 February 2018 after violent clashes broke out between the police and villagers who were protesting against the alleged failure by the mine to honour its promises to compensate and relocate them from the areas affected by mining operations.

Since then a series of meetings have been held at the mine aimed at addressing the villagers’ grievances. The mine has even offered employment to the widow of   Terene Pitae who was shot dead by police in February and even offered compensation to his family and other victims of the skirmishes.

But even those efforts failed to placate the locals who joined with mine workers in staging a protest against the mine from 25 to 27 April this year. The protest prompted the management to close the mine for the duration of the protests.

Equipment was vandalised during the protests and the company says the locals also trespassed onto the mining lease area.

The mine was closed again on 30 May after some locals allegedly vandalised mine property on the mining lease area.

The mine officials subsequently penned a strongly worded statement accusing unnamed cabinet ministers of inciting villagers into acts of vandalism that forced operations to grind to a halt.

The company said the cabinet ministers maintained direct communication with the vandals whose acts of subversion had not only “plunged the mine into chaos” but cost the country at least M202 500 for each day that the mine did not operate.

But in a new twist to the saga, Mr Sello stands accused of protecting the mine from scrutiny and possible censure for its strained relationship with the local community.

Some sources said that at Mr Sello’s instigation, Kao Mine officials refused to entertain the Natural Resources Portfolio Committee which had visited the mine a fortnight ago to discuss ways of resolving the mine’s dispute with the locals.

Upon arriving at the mine, the committee was allegedly given a cold shoulder by mine officials who told them that they were not welcome to visit the mine as it was not a state entity.

The parliamentary committee chairperson, Michael Molefe, this week told the Lesotho Times that the committee was yet to pronounce itself on the matter following “a misunderstanding that took place between the committee and the mine during our meeting on Wednesday (6 June 2018)”.

“A lot of arrogance from people with misguided beliefs that this parliament cannot control them was displayed during an official meeting and we could not do what we went there to do. We will put them under control and they will be governed by the laws of this country,” Mr Molefe said.

Mr Molefe said this was not the first time mining companies had disrespected the committee, adding that Liqhobong Mine did the same when it refused to honour a summons by the committee to appear before it.

Liqhobong Mine said it would only appear before the committee if the media was barred from covering the proceedings.

Meanwhile, sources privy to the developments at Kao Mines this week told the Lesotho Times that Mr Sello visited the mine the night before its scheduled meeting with the parliamentary committee.

“Minister Sello sneaked into the mine on Tuesday night while the committee members slept at Oxbow ahead of their meeting with the locals and mine officials,” a source said, adding that the minister incited the mine officials to snub the legislators.

Another source accused Mr Sello of protecting the mine from the parliamentary committee because of business interests that he had with the mine.

The source said Mr Sello had links with the shareholders of a scrap metal company that was engaged to collect scrap metal from the mine.

“The same scraps collected from the mines are dropped off at Minister Sello’s farm at Khanyane in Leribe. The scrap business is not registered in his name but its shareholders are closely linked with the minister,” the source said.

Yesterday, Mr Sello admitted that he was at the mine on the night before the parliamentary committee was scheduled to meet the mine officials.

“It is true that I was at the mine but I was not there to coerce the mining officials to snub the committee. Who am I to do that? I am just a minister not someone with powers to rebel against the parliamentary committee.

“I was there because I had mixed up the dates. I thought the committee was going to meet the mine officials on Tuesday instead of Wednesday,” Mr Sello said.

He said his ministry’s officials had also gone to Kao on the advice of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, who counselled that that the Mining Ministry and the parliamentary committee should work together to resolve the mine’s dispute with the locals.

Mr Sello accused the committee of spreading false information that he was bribed with shares in the scrap metal company to side with mine in its dispute with the locals.

“It is completely out of order for the committee to say that (Mr Sello was bribed). This same committee has all the information regarding the Kao Mine issue but it is not doing anything to come up with a lasting solution. “What is preventing them from doing their job? Members of the committee are approaching this matter with high emotions and they are not level headed at all.

“The committee should learn to deal with serious issues affecting the people and stop using this matter for a political gain. This is not a matter that we should be politicking about and accusing me of being bribed is just out of order. Even if I was bribed, would I be bribed with scraps piled at my farm for everyone to see,” Mr Sello said.

He said he was not a shareholder in the scrap company but admitted that he personally knew the shareholders and had given them access to his farm to store their scrap metal.

“It is true that that I have allowed those people to use my farm because they are from Leribe and I know them. They are not the only ones I am assisting. There are others who I have given access to the farm to mould bricks. Other people leave their vehicles there for safekeeping and others use my greenhouses at my farm. I know the whole world and people shouldn’t accuse me of being bribed when I assist people who come to me to ask for assistance,” Mr Sello said.

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