The people come first

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Letšeng Diamonds’ CSRI and Public Relations Administrator, Tšepo Hlojeng,right, (2)

Letšeng Diamonds CSRI and Public Relations Administrator, Tšepo Hlojeng, says the mining giant always makes the needs of the community a priority in its programmes.

Letšeng Diamonds, through its Corporate Social Responsibility and Investment Programme (CSRI), is supporting a series of trainings for 260 village healthcare workers in Mokhotlong. The training, whose objective is to equip the workers with the necessary skills to help them provide basic healthcare at community level, is expected to run from May to September this year in the district.

Letšeng Diamond Mine, situated in Mokhotlong district, is owned by London-based Gem Diamonds Limited (70 percent), with the Lesotho government owning the remaining 30 percent. Meanwhile, the training and purchase of medical kits for the village healthcare workers are part of the mine’s health project for the 2014-2016 CSRI Strategy, whose total cost is approximately M800, 000.

In this wide-ranging interview, Letšeng Diamonds’ CSRI and Public Relations Administrator, Tšepo Hlojeng, shares more details about the project and other related issues with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane.

LT: Letšeng Diamonds, through your office, is supporting a series of trainings for 260 health workers in Mokhotlong, where the mine is located. We understand this to be the responsibility of government through the Ministry of Health. How was Letšeng engaged in these trainings?

Hlojeng: Perhaps I should start by indicating that Letšeng Diamonds has a broad CSRI policy that guides the company’s CSRI interventions. The policy covers five areas, namely educational scholarships, small and medium enterprises, health, infrastructure and donations/sponsorships. The CSRI Programme focuses on sustainable, economically-viable, as well as community initiated and owned projects. The policy clearly outlines steps that need to be followed starting from identifying the projects to their implementation and handing over to the beneficiaries. Letšeng Diamonds undertook a needs-analysis in Mokhotlong and Butha-Buthe in 2010. The purpose was to assess the needs of the communities. The results of this needs-analysis exercise informed the CSRI interventions, including the training of Community Health Workers and other projects. The need to support and augment primary healthcare was confirmed as a dire need by the Ministry of Health, both at national and district level. In addition to the trainings, Letšeng Diamonds built and bought equipment for four health posts and also bought a laundry machine for Mokhotlong Hospital. All of this was in line with the Ministry of Health’s strategy. Letšeng, for want of a better phrase, had the capital to allow these projects to be fast-tracked. It is important to note that all the projects we support are informed by detailed needs analyses in which beneficiaries and the relevant government ministries participate.

LT: We understand Letšeng has budgeted about M800, 000 for the training and purchase of the medical kits. Does this mean you are the sole-sponsor for these trainings, or there are other partners involved?

Hlojeng: Letšeng Diamonds is the sole sponsor of this project. The need for these interventions was identified during the community consultations I referred to and confirmed by the Ministry of Health. The design of the health posts and the training content are the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.

LT: What is Letšeng’s Health Project? Could you please explain the objectives of this project and if it is only meant for Mokhotlong?

Hlojeng: Letšeng Diamonds’ health project is part of the CSRI programmes that the company has decided to support based on the country’s development challenges. Health has been identified as one of the key development challenges that SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, including Lesotho, face. Our CSRI interventions are designed to support government’s efforts in addressing poverty, unemployment and health challenges. Our CSRI programmes cover the whole country. However, we decided to start with Mokhotlong district because it is closer to our mining operations. We are now slowly moving to other districts. This applies to all the CSRI projects. This is in line with recognising affected communities and further that the benefit of the resources in terms of the Constitution is for the entire Basotho nation.

LT: What other projects has Letšeng, through its CSRI programme, engaged in in Mokhotlong and elsewhere in Lesotho over the years?

Hlojeng: Letšeng Diamonds has supported a number of projects, which include the Mokhotlong Wool and Mohair Association for wool and mohair development. The aim of the project was to enhance the quality and quantities of wool and mohair production through the promotion and support of proper farm management practices, as well as the introduction and support of genetically appropriate breeding processes. The other objective was to equip farmers with appropriate knowledge and skills for wool and mohair farming. The project had three components, which were (A) Farmers Skills Development. The purpose of the project was to arm farmers with the necessary knowledge and skills to run successful, profitable and sustainable wool and mohair farming operations. Over 1,000 farmers were trained in general livestock management, sheep and goat production management, agribusiness management, wool shearing and wool classing, ram-breeding, entrepreneurship and business management skills. In terms of infrastructure development, four state-of-the-art woolsheds were built at Mapholaneng, Libibing, Mateanong and Thabang in Mokhotlong. The necessary equipment was procured for each woolshed based on specific requirements. (B) Ram Breeding Support Programme; Six high quality rams were purchased for the Mokhotlong Wool and Mohair Growers Association. The rams are used for artificial insemination to assist Basotho breeders and farmers to produce high-quality livestock at affordable prices. (C) Construction of Maloraneng Lodge and `Mapoka Camp Site. These facilities consist of the Grand Lapa and six en-suite chalets located in Maloraneng Village and an open Lapa and ablution facilities located at ‘Mapoka Camp Site near Lichecheng village. These facilities were constructed by Letšeng Diamonds and its subcontractor, Alluvial Ventures. The ownership of these facilities is vested in the Khubelu Valley Tourism Ventures (Pae-la-Itlhatsoa community in Mokhotlong).

We also have the High Altitude Summer Marathon Sponsorship, which Letšeng Diamonds has been sponsoring since its inception (in 2003) to date. The marathon, which takes place in Mokhotlong, creates temporary employment opportunities during the preparation, implementation and phaseout of the race. The event also creates opportunities for Mokhotlong businesses because all supplies for the marathon are sourced from within Mokhotlong except in cases where such commodities can only be obtained outside the district. Then there was the construction of a community hall at Mapholaneng High School. The hall was built and is used by both the community and the school. Construction of classrooms: Four classrooms, a kitchen and an office were built at Pae-la-Itlhatsoa Primary School. The school initially only had three classrooms that accommodated all pupils from Class One to Seven. Medical and Emergency Assistance: Letšeng’s medical and emergency team regularly assists travelers who need medical care and evacuation to hospital on the road between Butha-Buthe and Letšeng. The area consists largely of steep valleys with fast-running rivers that swell rapidly after rain or snowfall. This puts local people at risk when they undertake their day-to-day activities such as going to work, trading, going to school or visiting friends and relatives.

Training of Mountain Rescue Team: The preliminary step in the formation of the mountain rescue team was to undertake a study tour/training with the Scotland Mountain Rescue team. A team of five people attended a 14-day training on mountain rescue in Scotland in 2013. The team that went to Scotland consisted of the following representatives: Government departments (Disaster Management Authority, National Security Services and Department of Youth), community representatives and Letšeng Diamonds. The purpose of the training was to learn detailed information as to how mountain rescue teams are formed and how they function from reputable and experienced mountain rescue teams in Scotland. The outcome was to inform and guide the formation of mountain rescue teams in Mokhotlong. Training of herdboys in life skills: The training of trainers to 40 herdboys was done in August 2013. The purpose of the training was to equip the trainers with kills to survive before, during and after natural disasters that include snow. Herdboys were selected from different learning posts that included Mateanong, Linakaneng, Maluba-Malube and Matsoaing. The course was facilitated by the Disaster Management Authority, Police and trainers who underwent outdoor survival skills training in Scotland. The trained herdboys will train other herdboys at the above-mentioned centres under the guidance of Lesotho Herdboys Association and Disaster Management Authority.

Kick 4 Life Project: Kick4Life, as an implementing partner, held Fit4Work training for outstanding youths from Mokhotlong. The Fit4Work curriculum was augmented to include an HIV Life Skills Curriculum delivered by trained coaches at Kick4Life. The participants underwent HIV Life Skills education, certifying them as peer educators. The Fit4Work Programme was also designed to give young adults the skills and knowledge necessary for succeeding in the workplace environment or continuing on to higher education. Topics covered included job-hunting, CV-writing, interviewing, career-guidance, workplace conduct, and various teambuilding and problem-solving activities. The Fit4Work participants were chosen from the Test Your Team event which was held in Mokhotlong. The event, which included a football tournament, Kick4Life activities and voluntary HIV-testing and counselling, attracted 137 youths from Mokhotlong. Constructing of bridges was identified as a priority. As a result, two footbridges were constructed with the support of Letšeng near Lichecheng and Maloraneng Villages. These footbridges are very helpful in connecting communities on both sides of the Khubelu River Valley. Abattoir Project in Mokhotlong: Letšeng has responded to the request from the people of Mokhotlong to construct an abattoir. A feasibility study and development of a bankable business plan is being done by an independent company.

LT: Looking back, can you proudly say you have managed to change people’s lives in Mokhotlong through the said projects?

Hlojeng: We can proudly say our contribution has made a sustainable difference in the lives of the poor and vulnerable. We do not build and handover projects and then leave. We regularly monitor the performance of our projects to ensure that they still achieve the objectives for which they were intended. We experience a few challenges with some of the projects. However, we are satisfied with the overall contribution we have made thus far. Our projects respond to the needs of the communities because they have come from them and been implemented in consultation with them.

LT: Letšeng has been accused by people of Mokhotlong of imposing projects on them, which may not necessarily benefit them all, especially poor people on the ground. The allegation was that a “few businesspeople” benefitted from some projects you “imposed” in Mokhotlong. How do you explain this?

Hlojeng: Besides the community needs analysis process that was undertaken in 2010 and reviewed again in 2013, there are regular community consultations with the people of Mokhotlong. It is at these forums that feedback is obtained from members of the community on ongoing and proposed projects. It is factually incorrect that some projects were imposed on the people and that only a few people benefit. Government ministries are also consulted and involved when supporting projects that fall within their ministries. Let’s take an example of a woolshed. Approximately 2,500 people benefit directly from the use of a woolshed every year. This number does not include their families and dependents. These are certainly not a few people. Over and above this, over 1,000 farmers benefitted directly from the trainings under the project.

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