By Marte Rostvaag Ulltveit-Moe, Morten Rønning and Harald Eraker
The roughly 600 workers who were laid off from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) in 1996 now fear for their lives. On June 2 last year one of them, Moralepi Kobo, was beaten to death by unknown perpetrators, who dumped his body at the door of a tribal leader who had actively supported the striking workers.
- Kobo's death is the last of many incidents which make us believe that we're the target of a terror campaign, says Syney Senoko, leader of the fired workers' union, Lesotho Workforce Trade Union.
He tells the International Rivers Network that another union member was beaten up by the police, who heard him complaining over his former employer. According to Senoko, the police warned the man not to talk about the strike. The workers' lawyer confirms that the situation is tense.
September 14, 1996 the police was brought into action against the striking workers who were gathered at their workmen's huts at the Muela Dam. Kværner Boving has supplied three turbines and other equipment worth about NOK 90 million for the associated power plant.
Through its subsidiary in South Africa, Cementation, Kværner has also supplied valves, pumps, and various equipment for other parts of the LHWP.
This episode was a culmination of an industrial dispute that had lasted for some months. As the first stage of the project was nearing completion, manpower needs had been reduced. Approximately 2,300 workers had been dismissed by the LHWP just before the shooting.
According to eye witnesses and a report from Amnesty International, the police stormed the huts and dispersed the workers by using tear gas. The police then fired at the fleeing workers, and killed some of them, even after they had left the construction site. Hundreds of workers sought refuge in a Catholic church nearby for a long time after the blood bath.
"We demand a new, independent inquiry of the episode, and that those responsible are brought to justice."
Press officer John Peder Egenæs of Amnesty - Norway on the killings of striking workers in Lesotho
Also ambulances and people trying to help the wounded, were shot at. One of the paramedics was shot and injured, and then detained for several days. According to Amnesty's report for 1996, even foreign nationals employed in connection with the project and security guards took part in the shooting.
The blood bath led to demands - both locally and internationally - for an independent inquiry. But the inquiry was carried out by the director of the Police Department and its British advisor. The acquittal of the police has been strongly criticized.
- The inquiry has not been satisfactory. We therefore demand a new, independent inquiry of the episode, and that those responsible are brought to justice, says press officer John Peder Egenæs of Amnesty - Norway.
Gordon Taylor, responsible for the Muela project at Kværner Boving, declines to comment on the shooting, and Amnesty's demands. But he emphasizes that the dismissed workers were not employed by Kværner in connection with the turbine supplies for the power plant, but by other contractors in connection with the construction of the dam, tunnels and other work.
Kværner in Lesotho
Through its wholly-owned English subsidiary, Kværner Boving Ltd, Kværner has supplied 3 turbines plus various equipment for the Muela power plant in the LWHP worth about NOK 90 million. Kværner owns 49% of the South African company Cementation Africa. This company has supplied the following equipment for the LWHP: Valves worth approx. NOK 1.6 million from Cementation's subsidiary Premier Valves (IES Valves), drilling equipment worth approx. NOK 1.8 million from its subsidiary Cemenco Steel Structures, pump installations worth approx. NOK 380,000 from its subsidiary Cementation Mining, and sluice equipment for the Katse Dam worth approx. NOK 1.8 million from Cementation Engineering.
Norwatch Newsletter 2/98