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Chief Justice Sakoane to Rule on Villagers’ Compensation Case against Letšeng Diamonds Mine

20 March 2024 by Pascalinah Kabi

 Est Read Time: 5 min(s) 11 sec(s)

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‘Mapontso Lematla (right) and Sephapo Moletsane (left) want the Lesotho High Court to order Letšeng Diamonds Mine to pay them for several years they worked as emergency responders.

Two azure strings, meticulously twisted into one, gracefully drape from the ankles of Mapontšo Lematla.

She accents these with delicate light pink push-ins, emitting a subtle flip-flop sound as she makes her way from the public gallery to the witness stand.

The sparsely populated Court 1 of the High Court of Lesotho accommodates merely a dozen individuals.

Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane presides, flanked by a police officer, a translator, and a court clerk at the forefront.

Positioned in the front row, facing Chief Justice Sakoane, are three attorneys: Advocate ‘Manthatisi Khesuoe representing the plaintiffs, Advocate Motiea Tele KC representing Letšeng Diamonds Mine, accompanied by his assistant.

Lematla, aged 54, occupies the space beside the translator, while her co-plaintiffs in the case – Sephapo Moletsane and Lentsoete Mohai – are seated in the public gallery, alongside a female police officer who intermittently enters and exits the courtroom.

“Letšeng provided us with walkie talkies following an incident at Patising,” Lematla informs the court.

Though she cannot recall the exact date of the incident, Lematla recounts to the court how her children were asleep when their home was inundated with water due to torrential rain and the rupture of Letšeng Diamonds Mine dam.

The dam is situated upstream from Patising village in Pae-lea-Itlhatsoa, within the Mokhotlong district.

“My children were advised to stand on top of the kraal for over an hour,” Lematla said.

This incident, Lematla asserts, prompted Letšeng Diamonds Mine to implement measures to safeguard villagers in the event of emergencies such as flooding, which endangered the lives of her children with the risk of drowning.

The walkie talkies

In October 2012, Lematla, along with the late Likoto Lematla, Moletsane, Mohai, ‘Mamoalosi Ntsiki, Ntaoleng Phoro, and ‘Malulang Lematla, each received a walkie talkie from Letšeng Diamonds Mine.

At that time, the late Likoto Lematla held the position of chief in Patising village when the mine provided walkie talkies to each of them.

Yesterday, during proceedings in Lesotho’s High Court, Lematla testified that she obtained the walkie talkie from representatives of Letšeng Diamonds Mine after a call from ‘Mamoalosi Ntsiki.

“They (Letšeng officials) instructed us to use the walkie talkies to notify them in case of accidents, enabling them to promptly respond to our aid,” she stated.

Additionally, she mentioned, “We were informed that in the event of an emergency, we should press the siren to alert the villagers to gather at designated assembly point. Then, we were to use the walkie talkies to contact the mine, specifying the number of people at the assembly point and those remaining in the village.”

She informed the court that the mine also utilized the walkie talkies to contact them three times a week.

On one occasion, mine officials contacted Lematla via the walkie talkie, and when she informed them, she was not at home, she alleges she was promptly instructed to return to her Patising village.

“This occurred on the day when the mine driver had an accident; he was swept away by the river,” Lematla recalled.

Pay us

Around 2020, Lematla, Moletsane, Mohai, Ntsiki, ‘Malulang, and Phoro filed a petition with the court to mandate Letšeng Diamonds Mine to compensate each of them M2,500 per month for their tenure as emergency responders.

The case has been ongoing for nearly four years. Moletsane testified before the court on March 12th, Mohai on March 13th, and Lematla on March 19th, 2024.

However, Ntsiki, ‘Malulang, and Phoro were absent on all three days, leading Chief Sakoane Sakoane to issue an absolute order in Favor of Letšeng Diamonds Mine against the three individuals. As a result, the trio is now indebted to the mine for an unspecified amount of money.

When she appeared before the court yesterday, Lematla attested that she had served as an emergency responder from October 2012 to May 2020.

In exchange for their voluntary emergency response work, Lematla, Moletsane, Mohai, Ntsiki, ‘Malulang, and Phoro requested monthly salaries from Letšeng Diamonds Mine.

Initially, Letšeng officials, acting as liaisons between the communities and the mine, informed the six individuals that they would raise the issue with mine management.

“We sought payment for our day and night work, without any days off. The response was consistent; they promised to take up the matter with mine management,” Lematla explained.

During cross-examination, Letšeng Diamonds Mine’s legal representative, Advocate Motiea Tele KC, informed the court that Letšeng officials had conveyed to the emergency responders that they would not be remunerated for their service.

Advocate Tele KC stated that this communication was documented in the minutes of April 2013.

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“At that meeting which I referred her to where chief Lentsoete was present, the minutes reflect that it was said that members were advised, especially committee members, to appoint themselves if selected families will have a problem now the compensation issue has been declined. Did chief Lentsoete tell you that?” Adv Tele asked Lematla.

“In other words, if they are not going to pay you, you rather leave that undertaking? Did he tell you that?”

When Lematla mentioned that this information had been conveyed to her, Adv Tele then suggested to her that she must acknowledge that “If you were informed as early as April 2013 that you would be compensated, then you should not have pursued payment through the court until now.”

Safety boots

In response, Lematla stated that despite Letšeng Diamonds Mine refusing to compensate her and her co-applicants, it is paying those who were recruited after them.

“I decided to take my chances and approach this court because those who were given the walkie talkies after us, are being paid with safety boots, freezer suits, shirts and trousers,” she said.

Adv Tele then asked: “Why donot you just ask for freezer suits and boots in respect of the period that you say you served?”

“I won’t request freezer suits because they won’t sustain my family,” Lematla declared. She continued, “I was able to make a living until Letšeng decided to make me their economic tool.”

When asked how she made a living before Letšeng Diamonds Mine acquired mining rights in Mokhotlong, Lematla responded that she engaged in artisanal mining.

“I used to mine and recover diamonds at that site, although the yield was not as substantial as those retrieved by Letšeng Diamonds Mine,” she explained.

In response to Adv Tele’s question, “So your real problem is that Letšeng now became a competitor?” Lematla replied, “Yes, your honour. This is why I insist that they must pay me because even if we do open mining below Letšeng, they chase us away.”

“Well, I want to tell you this before I sit down, that is a political question. You should be complaining about your politicians and complain that you were mining for diamonds and Letšeng came, they should have given you an alternative place to mine for diamonds,” Adv Tele said.

Meanwhile, Lematla, Moletsane, and Mohai maintain that Letšeng Diamonds Mine must compensate them for the numerous years they served as emergency responders.

Their lawyer, Adv ‘Manthatisi Khesuoe, contends that the mine has a responsibility to address their claims.

On the contrary, Adv Tele insists that the court should dismiss their case.

“The court will take time to consider, and you will be advised of the ruling,” Chief Justice Sakoane said.

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