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Article

16 May 2022

Author:
Pascalinah Kabi, MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism

Lesotho: Residents allege that mining company has contaminated streams, which is causing illness and death

‘Villagers take mining firm to court over polluted blue water, toxic to plants and animals’ 15 May 2022

A leading mining company in Lesotho, Letšeng Diamond Mine, has admitted in confidential reports its operations are polluting water systems that poor, rural communities rely on. But the company denies this in public. The Patising and Maloraneng communities living near the mine share the surrounding natural water sources. But residents say dark blue water runs in the contaminated streams, which is causing illness and death. Letšeng Diamond Mine, which started operating in 2004 and is 70% owned by London-based shareholder Gem Diamonds as well as the Lesotho government, denies any wrongdoing. The mine claims it is managing pollution levels that are a by-product of operations.

…In September 2020, 19 Patising villagers took the Letšeng Diamond Mine to court, fearing for their lives in the event a slimes dam, upstream of their village, collapses. Mapontšo Lematla, one of the 19 villagers, argued that the mine was contaminating freshwater sources. Leisanyane claimed water pollution allegations were misplaced when responding to the unusual high court application Lematla and 18 other villagers filed in court. The case is pending. Yet the report to the Department of Environment, which Leisanyane signed off and submitted, indicates that the return water dam receives seepage as well as stormwater from the surrounding catchment, resulting in frequent overflow of dirty water into the catchment.

…“As a consequence, the Patising system consistently exceeds the legal and adopted standards for nitrate”. According to the report, the mine has known that it was recording “increasing levels of nitrate and sulphate since 2014”. On 20 April this year, Leisanyane told MNN sulphates and nitrates are “byproducts of our work, we monitor them on a regular basis”. “We have to [regularly monitor them] because they are the byproducts of using explosives and all mines that use explosives do that [monitoring],” Leisanyane said. Now the question is, did Leisanyane commit perjury when he told the court in September 2020 the water contamination allegations were misplaced?