LESOTHO Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) Chief Executive Officer, Refiloe Tlali, says the authority is committed to improving the quality of life of local communities affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) – a bilateral water and energy project between Lesotho and South Africa.
Ms Tlali said this during a media tour of project sites of phase 1 of the LHWP which the LHDA conducted this week.
The LHDA said it organised the tour to “provide an exclusive into economic and infrastructure investments and developments implemented by the project in its first phase as well as helping to reveal the social face of the project as a balance to the well documented winning engineering and environmental achievements”.
The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
Phase I of the LHWP, consisting of the Katse and Mohale dams, the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation, power lines and telecommunication, etc.) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.
The hydropower component of Phase II, which is currently under further feasibility studies, may include a pumped storage scheme, conventional hydropower such as the expansion of the ‘Muela infrastructure or new greenfield sites.
Its exact form will be determined on completion of the further feasibility studies. Phase II is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2024.
Speaking during this week’s media tour, Ms Tlali hailed LHWP1 as an engineering and environmental success, adding, “But we would like to see the project achieving great success in improving the quality of lives of the affected communities”.
She said they were taking corrective measures to improve the livelihoods of the communities and more changes would be implemented during the second phase of the project.
Kemelo Maobane (47), who relocated to Ha Makotoko in Maseru from Molikaliko in Thaba Tseka to pave way for the project, accused LHDA of reneging on its promise to improve their lives when they were moved in 2001.
“They had promised us that our lives would be better than back home but that is not the case,” Mr Maobane said, adding he had to leave some of his livestock in Molikaliko as the pastures in Ha Makotoko were not sufficient.
Another villager, Mokoatsi Lakabane, said he was now worse off in Ha Tsolo in Maseru than he was in his original village of Jorotane in Thaba Tseka where he had fields that enabled him to engage in subsistence farming to feed his family of seven.
He said he was moved against his will and since his relocation in 2000, the commercial residential flats he was meant to receive as compensation remain incomplete.
He said it would have been better if he had been compensated with land.
He also expressed concern over the fact that he had been moved to an urban area where he had to pay for everything include water, electricity and waste disposal.
However, Matšepo Tau, sang a different tune, saying her life had improved since her relocation to Ha Makotoko in 1998.
“I used to cook on open fire back at home but now I cook on a gas stove thanks to the project” she said.
She further said that the relocation had brought her closer to essential services which she had to travel long distances to access in Thaba Tseka.
Likalaneng village in Maseru where three households were relocated from Thaba Tseka, now boasts an electricity connection to 319 households, a foot bridge, water and sanitation thanks to the project.