23 April 2018

Lesotho: Ministers in Bitter Fight

A nasty war of words has erupted between Trade and Industry Minister Tefo Mapesela, and his counterpart at mining, Keketso Sello.

This after Mr Mapesela publicly attacked his counterpart for failing to address the development needs of the local communities in Mokhotlong, home to some of the best high value diamonds being extracted by mining companies in Lesotho.

The Mokhotlong district is home to the world famous Liqhobong and Letšeng diamond mines. It will soon have the Mothae diamond mine, which is set to commence full scale mining operations in the second half of this year.

The local communities have however, complained on several occasions that they are not meaningfully benefitting from the abundant natural resources being mined from their area.

Mr Mapesela, who is also the ruling All Basotho Convention's (ABC) legislator for Mokhotlong, has since threatened to mobilise the communities in his constituency for a "hard fight" against Mr Sello and the mining companies. The garrulous Mr Mapesela is of the view that Mr Sello is not doing enough as mining minister to ensure that mining companies invest adequately in the communities in which they do business.

Mr Mapesela decided to go public with his concerns while addressing dignitaries, guests and the local community that gathered at the Mokhotlong Pitso Ground for First Lady, 'Maesaiah Thabane's birthday celebrations at the weekend.

Mr Mapesela accused Mr Sello of refusing to meet the Mokhotlong community to hear their concerns about the challenges to their livelihoods and their environment that have allegedly been brought on by the mining activities.

"The Mokhotlong community has serious concerns about mining by the Liqhobong and Letšeng mines operating on their land," Mr Mapesela said.

"As the local community from where the mining is done, we are the primary victims of soil erosion, sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and the contamination of the soil, ground water and surface water by the chemicals from the mining processes."

Mr Mapesela echoed Ms Thabane's concerns at the same function that although Mokhotlong was the "pearl of the country" and contributed significantly to the fiscus through the exploitation of its natural resources, the area had not registered any significant development to match its contributions to the country's overall development.

He said he was disappointed by Mr Sello's "lip service" approach to the community's grievances.

Mr Mapesela said he was miffed after he approached Mr Sello over the issue, and was asked by the latter to write an official letter requesting a meeting. Instead of asking for a letter, Mr Sello should have moved swiftly to urgently address the raised concerns, charged Mr Mapesela.

The tough-talking Mr Mapesela declared in front of the gathering which included Prime Minister Thomas Thabane that he would never write to Mr Sello requesting a meeting. He said he would rather "fight" his colleague over the issue.

"On several cases when I asked Ntate Sello to come to Mokhotlong for a meeting with the community, he told me to first write him a letter of invitation. I want to clarify today in front of the people who sent me to you that I am never going to write such a letter for one reason- I am the letter myself.

"These people voted for me because they trusted that I would represent them well in the august house and help them solve their problems. When I asked you to come, it was because they gave me the mandate to do so. If you don't address our problems Ntate Sello, I promise you today that we will fight. And please don't blame us and claim that we are scaring investors away," Mr Mapesela said in a belligerent tone.

Dr Thabane and Ms Thabane sat expressionless at the high table which was located behind the podium from which Mr Mapesela made his address. The locals however, ululated and cheered Mr Mapesela's speech.

Mr Sello was not at the high table during Mr Mapesela's address as he was mingling with some of the ABC supporters in attendance. The address was however, audible around the venue as it was beamed through a sound system.

Mr Sello subsequently told the Lesotho Times this week that he was still in a state of shock after the blistering attack.

He said he least expected to be publicly harangued at what should have been just a birthday celebration.

He said he was also worried by the fact that despite their cordial working relations, Mr Mapesela had chosen to publicly attack him instead of approaching him in private to discuss his concerns.

"Mr Mapesela's claims that I requested an invitation letter in order to meet with the Mokhotlong community clearly indicate that he and I are on good talking terms. If ever he didn't like my approach to the matter, he could have confronted me... instead of attacking me at the First Lady's birthday celebration.

"This was not an appropriate platform to address the issue, unless if Mr Mapesela just wanted to impress the people of Mokhotlong people by attacking me. We were at a birthday feast not at a cabinet meeting. This was not a national assembly caucus but a gathering where we were supposed to celebrate the life of an important person."

Mr Sello said he would wait for the promised war to start before considering his options.

"I will wait for him (Mr Mapesela) to start the war he pledged to initiate in good or bad faith. In the meantime, I can't even comment further because I am still in great shock without a clear understanding of what was going on to have caused such an attack," Mr Sello said.

The fiery Mr Mapesela is not new to public spats as this year alone in the previous month, he has already publicly brawled with his colleagues who include the Police Minister Retired Senior Superintendent 'Mampho Mokhele as well as Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and Trade and Industry Principal Secretary Thebe Mokoatle.

Last month, Mr Mapesela called on Commissioner Molibeli to step down over his alleged failure to suspend police officers who were involved in the fatal shooting of a protester at Kao Diamond Mine in February this year.

One person died and two others were critically injured on 8 February 2018 at Kao Mine after violent clashes broke out between the police and villagers who were protesting against the alleged failure by the mine to honour its promises to compensate and relocate them from the areas affected by mining operations.

Mr Mapesela, who visited the scene of the shooting in his capacity as the acting minister of mines at the time, condemned the heavy-handedness of the police which led to the loss of life.

"If (Compol) Molibeli can't make decisions, he should just leave office and make room for someone who is ready to protect the people. He was not born a Commissioner of Police and if he can't deliver he should just step down. I can't just sit back and watch this government being toppled by some rogue police elements".

"Mme Mokhele is also a former police officer and has the executive powers to take charge of the situation but I am surprised that she also has not done anything since the incident.

"We can't afford the blood of innocent people on our hands, not even by the so-called investors who don't respect our people," Mr Mapesela said at the time.

Last month, Mr Mapesela also publicly clashed with his principal secretary Mr Mokoatle over the latter's alleged insubordination relating to the use of a government vehicle in alleged defiance of a cabinet directive.

Meanwhile, Letšeng Diamonds' Chief Executive Officer, Kelebone Leisanyane, yesterday refuted Mr Mapesela's claims that the mine was not developing the Mokhotlong district.

Mr Leisanyane said Letšeng Diamonds undertook a community needs analysis and thereafter, established a Community Support Initiative (CSI) strategy for the periods 2011 to 2013, 2014 to 2016 and 2017 to 2019.

"Letšeng Diamonds supports and implements many initiatives that directly benefit the Mokhotlong community. Some of the initiatives include the wool and mohair development project which consisted of building of four wool sheds worth M3, 2 million, a ram breeding station worth M560 000 and training for Mokhotlong farmers worth M855 000."

He explained that the mine contributed to the Mokhotlong health projects where three health posts were built and furnished with M2, 2 million worth of equipment. He said the mine also contributed to the training of 260 village health workers and donated medical kits worth M800 000.

"Letšeng also contributes to the education sector. The mine built four classrooms for Pae-la-itlhatsoa Primary School worth M500 000. The mine also built ablution facilities for Molumong, St Peter's, St Michael's, Mokhotlong LEC and Mojakisane Primaries worth M630 000," Mr Leisanyane said.

He said the mine also injected M5, 6 million into the Liphamola Dairy Farm project and created reliable dairy market for the local farmers.

Mr Leisanyane said the mine enjoyed a cordial relationship with the community.

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