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Mothae Mine boss resigns

Business

…amid industry row with aviation company

Staff Reporters

Stephen Wetherall, the Lucapa Diamond Company CEO, is stepping down at the height of the Lesotho mining industry’s local participation controversy.

An Australian-based diamond miner and explorer with assets in Africa and Australia, Lucapa owns 70 per cent of Mothae diamond mine, with the Lesotho government holding the remaining 30 per cent.

Set to officially leave at the end of July after nine years with the company, Wetherall leaves the mine’s book in a healthier state after announcing that the last instalment of US$1.3 million in principal and interest on the original US$15 million Equigold debt, has been cleared.

Wetherall indicated it was time to explore other opportunities.

He stated that it was the right time for him to pursue new challenges elsewhere. He expressed pride in leaving behind a team of highly skilled individuals who will continue to advance Lucapa’s vision.

“I have thrived on the challenges put to me by the board and shareholders,” said Wetherall in a statement on Monday.

“We have together navigated the company successfully through a difficult pandemic, repaid all the project interest-bearing debt, successfully delivered and expanded two mining operations now generating solid margins, positioned the company for growth with future production from Merlin, and our kimberlite exploration program at Lulo is at an advanced and exciting phase,” he said.

“This is an appropriate time for me to take on other challenges.”

Wetherall’s resignation coincides with allegations that Lesotho’s diamond mines have violated local participation laws. Mohahlaula Airlines, a local airline company, claimed that diamond mining companies have neglected laws requiring them to engage local services for transporting diamonds out of the country.

Mohahlaula Airlines recently filed a criminal case against Mothae Diamond Mine, Letšeng Diamond Mine, Storm Mountain Diamonds, Liqhobong Diamond Mine, and the Department of Civil Aviation.

They allege that the companies fraudulently obtained temporary airspace permits (TASPs) after the suspension of such permits by the Director of Civil Aviation in 2022. Mohahlaula Airlines claims a potential revenue loss of M10 million between January 25 and March 28, 2023, as a result.

Phafane Nkotsi, CEO and founder of Mohahlaula Airlines stated that his company had identified a business opportunity in the general aviation and aerial survey market since 2017.

However, attempts to engage with diamond mines and other potential clients for charter and aerial survey services have been unsuccessful. They requested government intervention using provisions in the Mining and Minerals Act 2005 and Civil Aviation Act 2008 to compel the mines to utilize their services as required by the legislation.

The Lesotho Chamber of Mines, representing the mining companies, argued that they were being held hostage by Mohahlaula Airlines without government protection.

The Chamber expressed concern that a local company could wield such power without regulation. They accused the Director of Civil Aviation of abusing his authority and engaging in extortion on behalf of Mohahlaula Airlines. The issue highlights the ongoing dispute between Mohahlaula Airlines and diamond mining companies regarding compliance with local participation laws and the alleged misuse of temporary airspace permits.

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