Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has been dragged into the fallout between Masowe III residents and Tikoe River Stones Pty Ltd, a quarry mining company in the Tikoe area, over the destructive effects of the company’s blasting activities on their houses.
The residents, who include Labour minister, Keketso Rantšo, say they risk losing their houses if the company continues blasting as the tremors have resulted in walls and windows cracking.
And this week Ms Rantso told the Lesotho Times that she had met Dr Thabane with Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and a residents’ representative over the matter and were now waiting for his response.
So bad is the tension between the residents and the company that Ms Rantšo has even joined her fellow residents in picketing against the company.
Ms Rantšo, has in the past threatened to push the government to revoke the company’s operating licence.
And at the weekend, area chief Koenane Matsoso called in the police after the residents besieged the company’s premises to block operations. The heavily armed police officers dispersed the villagers before they were addressed by mining director Lefa Monaheng.
The villagers told the Lesotho Times that they want the mine operations to be halted until the company finds alternative machinery that does not damage their houses.
The residents also demanded that the company must stop operations until an environmental assessment is conducted.
“The walls of our houses are slowly giving in to the blasting and the government has not done anything to address this matter,” Morakane Mothoana, a resident in the area said.
The walls of my house have cracks and the windows are cracking but this matter is going on unaddressed. We have complained about this for a long time but they (Tikoe River Stones) have ignored us and have continued blasting as if our complaints do not matter.
“The mine operators are destroying our houses but they are not bothered because all they are concerned about is making money. We have sought help from various offices but no one has come forward to hear us out and this is causing us so much pain as some of us have built the houses on bank financing.
“It pains me to see my house wearing off daily while I sit helplessly. Our government is not doing us any justice. All the money that we are supposed to pay towards loans is now being diverted towards repairing the damage done by Tikoe River Stones,” Ms Mothoana added.
Ms Rantšo’s threat to have the mine’s operating licence revoked came after Mr Monaheng suggested that the government was partly to blame for the bad practice of his bosses by not tightening screws on operators who do not follow the regulations.
Mr Monaheng blamed his Chinese employers for lacking interest to address the communities’ grievances.
In the previous meeting, which was held a month ago when the residents took to the streets blocking the roads leading to the company’s premises, Mr Monaheng drew the indignation of the villagers when he blamed the government for giving licences to the Chinese operators.
“I am very sorry that this is happening. But it feels like I am being attacked on a personal level. It is a pity that the same people are given licences by the government. I blame the government for this one,” Monaheng had said.
He however, said he would communicate the villagers’ grievances to the mine owners “but could not guarantee” their willingness to stop operations pending an environmental impact assessment.
Contacted for comment, Ms Rantšo told the Lesotho Times that she, along with Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and another resident, was part of a delegation that met Prime Minister Thomas Thabane this week over the matter but are yet to get an answer to their concerns.
“We met the Honourable the Prime Minister on Monday and he is yet to get back to us and address our concerns with relevant stakeholders,” Ms Rantšo said.