Our Burning Planet


Letšeng Diamond Mine claims it is not guilty of polluting rivers

Letšeng Diamond Mine claims it is not guilty of polluting rivers
The Katse Dam is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and supplies water to Gauteng. (Photo: Deaan Vivier / Beeld / Gallo Images)

The Letšeng Diamond Mine in Lesotho has objected to reports that implicate the mine as one of the polluters releasing chemicals into the country’s rivers.

The Letšeng Diamond Mine claims that it was not given a right to reply to the findings set out in the story by the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism.

It also quotes an annual report by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) as proof that it is not guilty of polluting rivers that feed into Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. 

However, this LHDA 2020/21 annual report that the diamond mine quotes predates the LHDA’s confidential report which flags significant pollution by three mines, including Letšeng Diamond Mine. The findings of this confidential report are detailed in the report by the MNN.

The LHDA’s financial year ends on 31 March, which is the date that the information in the 2020/21 annual report would have been limited to. More than a year later, in May 2022, the LHDA compiled a confidential report based on water tests that detail the extent to which the Letšeng Diamond Mine as well as two other mines are polluting water sources that poor communities rely on for survival. 

The story by MNN was initially published on its website in October 2022 and republished in Daily Maverick in January 2023. 

Following the Daily Maverick publication, Letšeng Diamond Mine Chief Executive Kelebone Leisanyane wrote to this publication indicating that it was untrue that the mine was responsible for polluting waters destined for export to South Africa.

“Letšeng Diamonds is disappointed by the recent article published in your Daily Maverick newspaper as it is littered with factual inaccuracies and is alarmist in its tone, when the true facts demonstrate that there is no factual basis to the actual and implied assertions that Letšeng Diamonds is responsible for polluting waters that are destined for export to South Africa thereby imperilling this important industry in Lesotho. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Leisanyane said. 

He attached a link to the LHDA’s 020/2021 Annual Report which he says confirms the water quality in the Katse and Muela Dams as “good” and that “the below graphs (page 25 of the 2020/2021 Annual Report) are also included in the LDHA Annual report, reporting Nitrate levels (NO3) of below 0.8mg/l since 2015, with no evidence of further assimilation of Nitrates over the 2015-2021 period.”

Besides the LHDA confidential report, MNN interviewed the then head of Lesotho’s Department of Water, Stanley Motsamai Damane, who is on record saying that all mines are polluting water sources in Lesotho. MNNCIJ spoke to Damane and has a voice recording of his statement that confirms that mines in Lesotho are polluting water sources as shown in the LHDA confidential report and that the report carries the authority of the Lesotho government.

An interview about nitrate pollution with Letšeng’s Leisanyane on nitrate pollution in April 2022 has him on record saying that elevated levels of nitrates are noted during dry seasons.

The public statement issued by Letšeng in May 2022, states, “at Letšeng, ongoing water analysis over the years has indicated an increase in nitrates in our water due mainly to mining explosives’ residue”.

The mine’s claim that it was not given a right of reply before the story was published is incorrect. MNNCIJ sent questions to Letšeng Diamonds Mine communications and community relations officer Lehobang Chefa on 19 September 2022,  a month before the story was published on MNNCIJ site. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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