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Organizing the diamond mining industry in Lesotho

24 May, 2018Deep inside the mountain kingdom of Lesotho lies untapped treasure that is attracting global diamond mining capital.

 High in the Maluti mountains of Lesotho, in the Leribe region, at an elevation of 3,100 metres above sea level, operators such as the United Kingdom’s Gem Diamonds Letšeng mine produce high colour and quality diamonds. Although some of the diamonds produced in the mountain kingdom are rated at the highest price per carat production in the world, the lives of mineworkers and communities adjacent to the mines reflect a different reality of poverty.

The Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) is an active participant in IndustriALL Global Union’s diamond global network, which integrates the whole supply chain of the diamond industry, namely mining, gems, ornament and jewellery production. Major challenges confront the global diamond industry supply chain, including in Lesotho, and building strong unions lies at the heart of sustainable solutions to those challenges.

“The luxury diamond, mining, gems, ornament and jewellery production industry does not reflect the harsh reality of the working conditions suffered by those working in the sector, including women,” said Dan Theko, general secretary of IDUL.

IDUL has undertaken the task of organizing these mineworkers. Recognizing the scale task of organizing in mines buried deep in the remote mountain valleys of the Maluti mountains, IDUL invited IndustriALL and affiliate the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to assist and participate in its organizing drive.

The organizing drive, conducted in a freezing cold mountain winter, involved a two-day training workshop and an organizing and recruitment drive at British miners Firestone Diamonds’ flagship Liqhobong mine. General secretary Daniel Theko led his organizers in the four-day activity.

Besides the Liqhobong mine, IDUL has identified the Mothae mine, owned by Canadian Lucara Diamond, the Kao mine, owned by Namakwa Ltd of Bermuda, the Letšeng mine and the Lemphane mine, owned by British Paragon Diamonds, for organizing and recruitment drives. These mines are in various stages of development or initial production.

“The diamond industry is under greater pressure to improve its social and environmental performance, while workers face challenges of job security, trade union rights and achieving the decent work agenda,”

says Glen Mpufane, director of mining and diamond, gems, ornaments and jewellery production, who led the organizing and recruitment drive. The Sub-Saharan Africa regional office was represented by regional programme officer Charles Kumbi.

The vision of IDUL is to become the fastest growing mining union in Lesotho. NUMSA has committed to strengthening relationships with IDUL to realize that vision while IndustriALL, through its union building project, will continue to train and to build capacity to this new emerging union in Lesotho. Organizing in the diamond mining sector in Lesotho is a new initiative by IDUL since its formation from a merger process in 2015.