MASERU – Pollution of water sources and water catchment areas in the vicinity of mining operations continues to hog the limelight in Lesotho. Lesotho mines have yet again been accused of polluting water sources in communities around the mines, opposition leader of the Socialist Revolution (SR), Teboho Mojapela, said on Monday this week during a public debate hosted by ministry of natural resources on Lesotho mining compliance and the economic impact of the sector.
Mojapela said instead of improving the lives of communities around Lesotho’s mines, the mines aggravate their situation as they not only exploit their resources without giving much back to the communities but pollute their water sources, with far reaching consequences into the future, long after mining operations have ceased.
The majority of Basotho do not benefit from the mines but only a small group of people do, he said. “Basotho are not benefiting from the mines, instead the situation is worsened by these mines. It is only a group of criminals that actually benefits from the mines,” he said. A case of water pollution by Let’seng Diamond Mine at Khubelu River which supplies Maloroaneng and Patising communities in Mokhotlong, was reported by this publication in September 2022 where communities were forced to drink water contaminated with alleged mine waste.
These communities are located downstream the Lets’eng mine site and rely on water from Khubelu river, fed by smaller streams originating from the Lets’eng la terai wetland that is now home to the lucrative diamond mine. In an interview with this publication, Principal Water Resources Engineer at Water Department, Christinah Makoae this week acknowledged the department had received the report of contaminated water last year around May and as in response officials were send to the places in question to do some investigations and test the alkalinity and acidity of the water.
She said the team returned back to Mokhotlong again for further investigations and reports were submitted to the department about the team’s findings. “The team went to Lets’eng Mine and specifically concentrated on the stream on the way the Maloroaneng, just below where the mine disposes its stockpile. “The stockpile is believed to be the one polluting the nearby wetland,” she said.
Makoae further stated that after the team compiled and submitted the report, she personally went to the place in question and just like the team did, she found out that there is a high possibility of water pollution that could be caused by the stockpile to the nearby wetland. “The Moloroaneng river in question is 100 meters from the wetland therefore there is a high possibility that it can be contaminated. When we talk of water and pollution, we do not only talk about surface water, we also talk of underground water, please note. This means that if there is pollution on the surface, there is a possibility that underground water is polluted as well,” Makoae stated.
She, however, said that due to lack of relevant resources, she is not in a position to say whether or not the Maloroaneng and Patising’s water sources are polluted further articulating that it should also be taken into consideration that water get diluted during its flow and the pollutants may never get into the river in question. The communities have reported to this paper cases of health challenges they have been facing including struggle to maintain viral load for those taking antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and numerous episodes of stomach-aches and diarrhea by the larger part of the communities.
However, confronted about the alleged water pollution, Lets’eng refuted the allegations and noted that their then independent water quality assessment conducted through an accredited laboratory established that nitrate levels in Khubelu’s surface water sources in the downstream communities of Patising and Maloroaneng have consistently been within the drinking water standards over the October 2021 to April 2022 period.
On the other hand, according to journalist Pascalinah Kabi, who is the author of Pollution, Profits and the People, Lets’eng Mine Chief Executive Officer, Kelebone Leisanyane, submitted the mine’s annual’s Annual External Social and Environmental Management Plan Compliance Audit Report that states that standards for acceptable nitrates are consistently exceeded in the Patising. The report, submitted in January last year, was in line with the Environmental Act, 2008, requirements. “Despite the implementation of several mitigatory measures to clean the seepage (dilute and engineered wetlands), the system remains polluted with nitrates at levels exceeding domestic and livestock guidelines.
“Standards for nitrates are consistently exceeded in the Patising, Qaqa and RTZ systems while biomonitoring (SASS and diatoms) results show the Patising system is in a poor condition, mostly owing to elevated salts and organic pollution (Biannual Water Quality Monitoring Report of March 2021),” the Leisanyane report said.
The report further noted that the RTZ system, a structure built to treat water in the mine, has recorded increasing levels of nitrate and sulphate since 2014, which suggests that the mine has always been fully aware of its anthropogenic impact on the Mokhotlong water sources as per the findings of the report.
A community member from Patising in Mokhotlong, Maponts’o Lematla in an interview with Public Eye said to date no action has been taken either by Lets’eng Mine or the ministry of natural resources with regard to addressing the polluted water issue.
“We have been making noise about this water issue and since the last time this newspaper was here, nothing has changed. We are still drinking this polluted water straight from the river as we have no other options and water borne diseases have become our norm as a result. We even approached Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and hope they will be able to get the issue through to the responsible parties,” she said.
TRC confirmed that has received a request to intervene from communities affected by the mines. Officials from TRC told this paper that it is currently collecting data from both sides, the community and the mine, that will help map a way forward.