Lesotho: Letšeng in Racism Storm

Angry Letšeng Diamonds employees are demanding the sacking of a white South African-born manager, Bris Olivier, who they accuse of assaulting a local employee at the mine.

The workers allege that the recent assault was one of the many "racism" cases that have been ongoing for a long time at the mine and want the perpetrators to account for their actions.

They say they have had enough of racism in the mining giant's Mokhotlong plant and are now putting management under pressure to either fire Mr Olivier or risk a go slow that will disrupt production.

They allege that Mr Olivier assaulted Continuous Improvement Lead, Tšepiso Mofolo, recently after the latter requested permission to make a work-related presentation to staffers who work under Mr Olivier.

"Oliver went on leave some time ago and white employee was left in charge of that department," a source at the mine told the Lesotho Times this week.

"Mofolo told the acting manager that he needed to do a presentation to his subordinates, the acting manager advised Tšepiso to write an email to Oliver, which he did. Oliver responded by saying bull***t," the source said.

The source alleged that Mr Mofolo was unhappy with the email but decided to let it go.

The source said they all thought the matter was behind them until Mr Oliver raised the matter in a management meeting, accusing Mr Mofolo of seeking to address the former's subordinates without his permission.

"Mofolo responded by saying "I sent you an email requesting your permission and instead you insulted me". Instead of engaging on the topic, Oliver assaulted Tšepiso in full view of other line managers," the source said.

Another source said one of the managers asked to have a word with both Messers Olivier and Mofolo outside the meeting hall. The source claimed that the unnamed manager advised Mr Olivier to immediately apologise to Mr Mofolo, of which Mr Olivier did.

"He was also advised to go inside the meeting hall and apologise in front of all the managers and he did. However, we are unhappy with the white supremacy at the mine. White South Africans are mistreating us and management is not lifting a finger to address this matter. Racism has been going on for far too long here (Letšeng Mine)," the source said.

Another source said this was not the first incident where a white South African employee had assaulted a Mosotho employee. The source alleged that after the earlier incident, the offender ended up bribing his victim not to report him.

"He immediately resigned and left because company policy dictates that engaging in violent acts at work is grounds for dismissal. There are former Basotho employees who were dismissed from work because of that and we are surprised that Oliver has only been suspended from work instead of being dismissed," the source.

Another source said they were now planning to down tools if Mr Olivier is allowed back to work, warning that this would be a serious breach of work policy by the management.

"We will not take this lying down. We will simply embark on a go slow until Oliver is fired. Management is afraid of white foreigners and they let them walk all over us. It is time we put a stop to that," the source said.

Contacted for comment, Letšeng Diamonds Communications and Community Liaison Officer Lebohang Chefa said: "Letšeng Diamonds has received reports of an alleged assault to one of its employees by a senior manager employed by MGC Mining, one of the contractors at Letšeng Mine in Mokhotlong".

He said the management of MGC Mining, in Consultation with Letšeng Diamonds, took an active step to remove the accused MGC employee from the Letšeng mining pending investigations and action on the incident. He said the decision was taken immediately after receiving reports on the alleged incident.

"Letšeng's policies, procedures and programmes prohibit any form of discrimination on the basis of beliefs, race, colour, gender, language, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or age. Letšeng's Code of Conduct further prohibits any form of assault, bullying or intimidation within the mine's premises.

"Therefore, under no circumstances does Letšeng Diamonds encourage, condone or support assault, bullying or intimidation. Letšeng cares for every employee, whether employed directly by Letšeng Diamonds or by the contracted companies. The Management of Letšeng considers all employees as the Mine's most valued assets because it is through their everyday efforts that diamonds are mined, processed and sold for the company to realise profits and growth on behalf of its stakeholders. As such, the company endeavors to protect its employees against any unlawful behaviour prohibited by the Constitution of Lesotho," Mr Chefa said.

Letšeng Diamonds operates Letšeng Diamond Mine. The mine is renowned for producing five large high-quality white diamonds, which are among the largest in the world. Gem Diamonds Limited acquired the mine in October 2006 and owns 70 percent of shares while the government holds the remaining 30.

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