Villagers, miner on warpath

MAFETENG –– Battle lines are drawn between villagers and a diamond mining firm at Ha-Petlane in Kolo about 60 kilometres south of the capital Maseru.

Villagers have demanded that Angel Diamond stop all mining exploratory operations because they were damaging their houses.

They have also demanded written assurances from Angel Diamond that it will help them relocate to a safer area before they can allow the mining operations to continue.

Angel Diamond is a subsidiary of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed firm, Thabex.

Angel Diamond, which began operations at Kolo about three years ago, has so far refused to commit itself to the villagers’ demands.

Joseph Mabote, the safety and security manager at Angel Diamond said the mine was not in a position to sign any compensation agreement with the villagers as it was still involved in ascertaining the value of the diamonds underground.

 “At present, the mine cannot commit itself on anything because it is not known yet if there are diamonds underground,” he said.

“At the end of our exploration, we do not know whether there will be any need to continue digging or not,” he said.

The villagers told the Lesotho Times this week that there will be no mining activities at Kolo until their demands are met.

Last week armed police were deployed at Kolo after some skirmishes between the villagers and the mining authorities.

The police could be seen milling around the mining compound when the Lesotho Times visited the mine last week.

Trouble began after the Mafeteng district administrator told the villagers two weeks ago that the mining operations would continue despite their objections.

The villagers were however adamant that no mining operations would take place until their demands were met.

They said the blasting of rocks was damaging buildings resulting in most houses having cracks.

They said they want the mining firm to fund their relocation to a safer area away from the mine.

Angel Diamond has so far refused to commit itself to the villagers’ demands.

Mabote said the mining firm had so far not signed any document undertaking to compensate the villagers.

Mabote said the villagers were in a belligerent mood making it difficult to reach common ground.

“The people were very hostile and the mine was not able to sit down with them and reach agreement on these things,” Mabote said.

“However, I want to assure you that all laws will be followed during blasting and the blasting company will take responsibility of removing the houses to a safer place.”

The villagers said they were not against the operation of the mine but were objecting to the pulling down of their houses without having signed papers stating that Angel Diamond will compensate them.

The villagers said they were also not consulted when Angel Diamond started mining operations in the area three years ago.

Lesole Thulo, a member of the village committee, said they were not bothered that the mine was being backed by the government.

“Whether this mine is being backed by the government or not, we are determined to resist it until our voice is heard,” Thulo said. “We are fed up.”

Sechaba Mapitse, another member of the village committee, said he was angered by the DA who accused the village chief of siding with his people.

“The DA told our chief that he was weak and that he was controlled by the people instead of him controlling his people,” Mapitse said.

“Our chief has to stand with his people because he knows where his power is,” he said.

’Mamosuoe Mpeete said the DA had explained to them that the mine would only sign papers agreeing to compensate the villagers after realising profits from the operations.

Mpeete said the DA’s explanation was extremely ludicrous.

 “The DA told us at a public gathering that the mine authorities would not sign any document committing themselves to the compensation for our houses until after realising profits,” Mpeete said.

“I fail to understand the logic of it all,” she said.

“Does the mine have a right to damage our houses in their search for diamonds and pay us only when they have found them?”

Chief Nthofeela Petlane said he was disappointed that the mine had refused to sign papers agreeing to compensate the villagers.

 “I am very worried that the situation will get out of control if all stakeholders do not sit down to solve it,” Petlane said.

“I appeal to the government and the mine to help solve this problem,” he said.

Efforts to contact the DA were not successful.

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