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Villagers demand relocation from Letšeng

by Lesotho Times

Bereng Mpaki

VILLAGERS from the Patising community in Mokhotlong have dragged Letšeng Mine to court demanding that they be relocated to a better place without air and water pollution from the mine.

In a High Court application was filed on Monday, the villagers said they want the court to order the mine to relocate them from Patising to a safer place to be chosen and agreed by both parties.

The villagers said they live in constant fear that the slime dams that are located close to their community could burst.

They also claimed that the mine’s operations have rendered a nearby stream which they rely on for domestic use harmful.

Letšeng Diamonds, the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Mining and Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo are cited as first to third respondents respectively.

“The main purpose of this application is to ask the court to intervene and order the first respondent to relocate applicants from Patising to another place, which will be chosen and agreed upon by all the parties…,” the villagers said in their court application.

In her founding affidavit, one of the 19 applicants, Mapontšo Lematla said the slime dams were a “disaster waiting to happen”.

“It is common cause that Letšeng diamond mine has slime dams and impoundments. As I have already indicated above, Patising village is located downslope to the mine and this is where these slime dams and impoundments are located. It is this location of the slime dams vis-a- avis our village which is a cause for the applicants’ concern.

“We live in constant fear of what could become of us and our properties should the dams fall.

“In 2012, Letšeng Mine approached and met us as the community. According to Letšeng, the purpose of the meeting was to identify effective emergency plans in the event that the dams failed.

“Among other things, they provided us with sirens and two-way radios. This equipment was meant for use to warn members of the community to run for safety in the case of emergency associated with dams’ failure.

“This gesture by Letšeng only lent credence to our fear that there was a disaster waiting to happen because if Letšeng was 100 percent sure that the chance of dams failing was zero, there would be no need to take those measures.”

Ms Lematla said they were also concerned about pollution of their water sources by the mine’s operations.

“Apart from the risks posed by the slime dams, there is also an issue of water contamination. The stream water that we used to enjoy is no longer safe for our consumption and washing. We are now fearful of our water because we develop itching skin whenever we use the water, something that was never the case before.”

She said the community has in the past unsuccessfully engaged with the management of the mine over these issues through the assistance of the Maluti Community Development Forum (MCDF), an advocacy group against adverse effects of mining activities on host communities.

“Every time MCDF engages with Letšeng on our behalf on the subject of their slime dams, Letšeng says their dams are safe. This they say despite the fact that Letšeng has made it clear that our lives were at risk, hence their provision of the equipment I mentioned above.

“On 23 May 2020, the community of Patising invited MCDF to come and hear our grievances against Letšeng so that they could engage Letšeng on our behalf. Having heard our grievances, on the 28 May 2020, MCDF wrote a letter to Letšeng detailing our grievances, and asking Letšeng to help us relocate.

“First, it was our customary issue of slime dams, which we live in constant fear of. Second was the issue of water contamination. As usual, Letšeng was dismissive of our fears of their slime dams, saying there was no need because their slime dams and impoundments are safe. As regards the issue of possible water contamination, Letšeng simply said they were investigating.”

The applicants have moved for the case to be heard on 21 September 2020.

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