MASERU –– A strike called by workers at Lets’eng Diamond Mine collapsed on Monday after heavily armed soldiers stormed the mine.
The workers are employed by Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC) which provides earthmoving machines and manpower to Lets’eng Diamond Mine.
The workers called the strike last week to protest against management’s refusal to endorse the formation of their Mining and Construction Workers Union (MICOWU).
The workers wanted the MMIC to deduct subscription fees from their monthly wages to MICOWU as provided for under the Labour Code.
It was not clear why the MMIC refused to endorse the formation of the trade union.
The workers called the strike on Monday to press management to concede to their demands.
Heavily armed soldiers from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) stormed the mine on Monday forcing the workers to abandon their protest.
Workers who refused to be named said they were shocked when they arrived at work on Monday morning only to see armed soldiers roaming the mine compound.
“The workers abandoned the strike action after seeing the soldiers roaming the compound,” a worker who refused to be named said.
“They were looking mean and inspired fear on the workers. We thought they had come to intimidate us and we abandoned the strike action. No one wanted to take risks and clash with them,” he said.
Lets’eng Diamond general manager, Moruti Mphats’oe, declined to comment on the events saying he did not deal with security issues.
Mphats’oe referred the Lesotho Times to the security manager, Ts’epo Mokotjo, who also declined to comment.
Workers who spoke to this newspaper said the deployment of soldiers was “totally unwarranted”.
They said it was clear that the soldiers had been brought to intimidate workers and cause them to abandon the strike action.
Sources at the mine said the deployment of soldiers on Monday came as a surprise as no evaluation process was planned for the day.
Security is often stepped up at the mine during the diamond evaluation process with soldiers being seen everywhere across the compound, the sources said.
A senior security officer at Lets’eng said it was unusual for the soldiers to be stationed at the mine when there was no evaluation process going on.
LDF spokesman Lieutenant Mathanzima Taneso rejected charges that soldiers were deployed at the mine to thwart the strike.
He said the soldiers were on routine duty of guarding the diamonds.
Taneso said soldiers always go to the compound a week before the diamonds are prepared for export.
“It is just a coincidence that the soldiers went there at a time when the workers had planned a strike,” Taneso said.
“We always go there a week before the diamonds are prepared for exportation.”
Strike action at the mine would have negatively affected production at Lesotho’s biggest diamond mine which rakes in an average M21 600 000 a month.
Lets’eng produces 3 000 carats a month with a single carat selling for M7 200.
Lets’eng Diamond has hired all its earthmoving equipment and mining operators from the MMIC, which has the load-and-haul contract.