9 March 2018

Lesotho: Thabane Ventures Into Diamonds

A LOCAL mining company led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's son, Potlako, is in the final stages of prospecting for gems and expects to begin full scale diamond mining operations at Ha Mosuoe, Quthing, before the end of the year.

Diamond mining in the country is currently dominated by foreign firms with government retaining a minority shareholding in the mining ventures.

Mountain Star Holdings, which also has interests in sandstone quarrying, was formally introduced to the host community by the Minister of Mining, Keketso Sello, during a recent public gathering.

The company began prospecting for alluvial diamonds along the Senqu River in the Ha Mosuoe area in 2012. It has since moved into trial mining to determine the viability of its envisaged full scale operations.

Mr Thabane told the Lesotho Times, on the sidelines of the public gathering, that he was confident his company would commence full scale mining before the end of the year.

He said it was imperative for them to overcome all obstacles that had delayed them so far and begin the requisite operations to create jobs for locals.

"We are eager to begin operations as soon as possible and in fact we had intended to have begun commercial operations by November 2017, the time we had anticipated we would have concluded trial mining," Mr Thabane said.

"However, we had some challenges and we were unable to (start full scale mining last November) but we hope to begin operating commercially before the end of this year."

Mr Thabane also said the company was also in the process of reviewing its shareholding structure which would include prominent individuals in government and in the corporate world.

He further assured the local community that all households whose livelihoods would be affected by the mining venture would be fully compensated.

"We stand by our promise that each person whose field will be affected by the operations will be approached to agree on compensation that will be satisfactory to both parties," he said in response to concerns by some of the villagers who had accused the company of failing to compensate them for their grain fields that had been destroyed during the prospecting phase.

The villagers also implored the company to be transparent in its operations and always communicate with them. They also demanded to be given first preference when it came to the recruitment of staff.

In response, Mr Thabane promised that they would give first priority to locals when hiring workers.

One of the villagers, Ntoa Moletsane, said there were high levels of unemployment in the area and this had forced most youths to migrate to South Africa in search of employment in mines and farms.

"Every Thursday and Friday six sprinter buses transport our youths to Ceres farms (in South Africa) and they go there without work permits which puts them in danger of being deported.

"We also have many graduates who are still looking for jobs more than ten years after graduating. We hope that with the opening of the mine, these problems will be alleviated," he said.

For his part, Minister Sello said mining operations could only succeed in a climate of strong relationships, grounded in trust and transparency, with the local communities.

"Mining has to be founded on strong and cordial relations between miners and the community. When an agreement has been reached between the parties, it should be implemented earnestly and timeously by the responsible party, so that both parties' interests are satisfied.

"I hope this mining venture marks the beginning of a new chapter built on good relations between the company and the local community. I also hope that mining will change our lives for the better," Mr Sello said.

He said the government was open to prospecting applications from anyone who had the capacity.


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