(MENAFN- The Post) MASERU -BOOOOOOOM!
That's another thundering blast from the Tikoe River Stone Mine which has become a menace to the Matebeleng Ha-Thetso community.
It's a sound that the villagers hear from the quarry mine every day. One they know comes with more misery, more damage to their house.
More shattered windows. More fumes that chock them.
And more noise that hurt their ears.
Now the villagers say they have had enough and have asked Mines Minister Serialong Qoo to close the mine.
Qoo was at the village on Tuesday and he got an earful from the villagers who believe the mine is being protected by some politicians.
Two decades ago, Lebohang Mooi, the secretary for the liaison committee between the mine and the community, built his three-roomed house on the foot of Qeme Plateau in the village of Matebeleng Ha-Thetso.
He chose the site for its beautiful views. From his bedroom, he can see the Phuthiatsana River flowing.
He used to wake up to that picturesque view until the mine came.
Now he wakes up to the relentless sound of blasts and smog of dust.
The mine's machinery buzzes all day and only stops at midnight.
When the buzzing stops the alarm starts, immediately followed by another blast.
The people know that when the alarm goes off, it's time to take cover. Some run into nearby villages and hills.
In 2012, soon after the Tikoe River Stone Mine opened a stone hit the roof of the house just above the lounge door as a result of a blasting activity at the mine.
The tremor of the blast also resulted in a slight shift of the lounge door, leaving the door hanging on its hinges and unable to close.
The main bedroom's wall has a wide crack through which you can see what is inside.
The blast also damaged the bedroom window.
When it rains the water seeps through the damaged wall in the lounge.
The company is yet to deliver on its promise to repair the damage but the villagers have made peace with the fact that every blast from the mine widens the cracks in the walls.
Mooi worries that one big blast from the mine will destroy what remains of his house.
He said the mine examined the damage and promised to fix his house but never did.
“It has been almost 10 years since we started living in a house that is a threat to our lives,” Mooi said.
“These have been years of empty promises from the mine about fixing my home,” he said during a public gathering hosted by the Minister of Mining on Tuesday in the area.
His is just one of the dozens of houses that have been damaged by the blasts from Tikoe River Stone Mine in Ha-Thetso.
“Cracked walls and broken windows are a norm in this area,” Mooi said.
“For years we have knocked on numerous doors seeking assistance regarding this mine but in vain. The people of this area live in unbearable conditions. The constant inhalation of dust from the mine is the main cause of illness here,” Mooi said.
Though the people of Ha-Thetso have suffered from the damage of their property and live through a fog of dust, the final straw is the mine's recent claim to a piece of land that the villagers say belongs to them.
“We were shocked one morning when we woke up to mining activities very close to our village. We asked the mine to stop what it was doing and to our shock, the mine claimed that it also owns our village,” Mooi said.
“That is when we wrote to the Commissioner of Mines asking for a map so we can see whether what the mine is saying is true.”
To date, he said, officers from the Ministry of Mining have failed to produce the map.
Asking Qoo to intervene, he said, was their last resort.
“The mine's claim that it owns our village nearly resulted in violence in this area. Residents of Ha-Thetso are angry, the mine has gone rogue and we want it closed,” Mooi said.
He says apart from promising to fix his house the mine also said it would give the villagers M15 000 to share among themselves.
The mine, he added, also committed to providing M2000 to help those affected by the dust from the village to see doctors.
“However, that only happened for a short while.”
Lisebo Molaoli, another villager, said in addition to the blast the company has also diverted the course of the river.
“While extending their site the mine ended working in the river, the river no longer flows as it used to. It is now flowing too close to our village as the heaps of soils from the mine have cut its natural flow,” Molaoli said.
“We fear that in a couple of years as the mine keeps extending the river is going to wash away our homes,” she said.
“We want the mine to pack and go and let us go back to how we lived before its arrival.”
'Mapaballo Mooi, a village healthcare worker in Ha-Thetso said:“We cannot go on like this anymore, our lives are at risk, we need help”.
The blind and immobile residents of Ha-Thetso, she said, are left behind when the villagers run for safety during the blasting and the mine does not take any initiative to take them to safety.
“We worry that someday something might happen to them,” 'Mapaballo said.
'Mabatho Ramorakane, a villager, said they are not only suffering from dust induced illnesses but they are also losing their hearing because of the blasting.
“The mine is too close to our village and the loud noises coming from blasting and other mining operations is deafening,” Ramorakane said.
“When the alarm rings warning us about blasting it evokes fear and confusion amongst our children. This is not conducive for raising children, we want the mine gone,” she said.
Qoo promised the residents that officials will come to show villagers the mine map so that they can see the mine's boundaries.
“I am disappointed and surprised that the mine is not represented today yet they knew about this gathering,” Qoo said.
“On Thursday they will have to show up, by next Tuesday we must know whether the mine must be closed or it is willing to provide alternative solutions to your grievances,” he said.
“Yes we want jobs but life comes first. We cannot buy life but with jobs, there can always be alternatives.”
The Tikoe River Stone director, Lefa Monaheng, told thepost that he held meetings with the villages around the mine before the mining started.
“The council knows about our operation in the area, otherwise there was no way we could acquire a licence to operate,” Monaheng said.
“When we blast we obtain a permit for that, for each blasting, from the Ministry of Mining. This shows you that every step has been followed or else we would not get the permits,” he said.
Monaheng said their Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) was approved by the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and they have never had any problems with the authorities.
He said the Ha-Thetso community is complaining because some members of the past and present liaison committees do not want to account for the money provided by the mine to repair the houses.
“At every blasting, we pay M15 000 to the village to fix any property that could get damaged and the agreement is that when the damage is beyond that amount they should come back to us.”
He said when the mine demanded the committee members to account the problems with complaining villagers started from nowhere.
“I don't have personal knowledge about Mr Mooi's house but we are not hostile to talks. We will go there to have talks with the villagers over these things,” he said.
Monaheng said he was unaware of Qoo's Tuesday meeting with the villagers. He said he only knew that they had been invited to a meeting but he did not have a date.
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