Nthatuoa Koeshe | Pascalinah Kabi
MOKHOTLONG – THE multi-billion maloti Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II is under threat from villagers in the Mokhotlong district who have vowed to stop the project if their demands for compensation are not met.
The communities are demanding lifetime compensation or alternatively payment for a 99 year period from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (which is tasked with the implementing the dam project) for the loss of their land.
However, the LHDA has said it will only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements.
The Polihali Dam is due to be constructed in terms of the bi-national LHWP Phase II.
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 bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations.
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) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.
However, the local communities in Mokhotlong, who have coalesced under the banner of the Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) organisation, are threatening to disrupt the dam construction if their demands for compensation are not met.
SOLD is a civic human rights organisation committed to promoting social justice among communities affected by dams, mines and other large infrastructure developments.
The organisation was established in 2004 after some of the communities affected by the LHWP Phase I were not compensated and others only received compensation 20 years after the completion of the Katse and Mohale dams.
Yesterday, 50 villagers braved the driving rain and chilly conditions to march for three kilometres from their homes to the LHDA offices in Tlokoeng, Mokhotlong where they handed a petition to the LHDA’s Polihali Branch Manager, Gerald Mokone.
Some villagers told the Lesotho Times that the low turnout for the protest could be attribute to the fact that some of the villagers were satisfied with the compensation they had received from the LHDA.
This however, did not dampen the mood of the few protestors who marched to the LHDA offices.
Escorted by 10 police officers, the protestors, who were mostly women, walked in the rain carrying placards with messages such as “life compensation, not 50 years”, “land rates must increase” and “we demand all compensation before relocation”.
Upon arrival at the LHDA offices, the protestors kept their spirits up by singing songs as they awaited Mr Mokone and his colleagues to address them.
The protest began with a speech from SOLD’s National Coordinator, Lenka Thamae, saying that the construction of the Polihali Dam was unlawful because the location was not covered by the 1986 treaty between the two countries.
Mr Thamae said the treaty only spoke of the Katse, Mohale, Mashai and Tsoelike areas and there was no mention of Polihali in the agreement. He said this made the decision to construct the Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong unlawful.
Reading the petition to LHDA, one of the protestors, Bolae Matalasi, demanded that they be compensated for the rest of their lives for the land lost to the project. Mr Matalasi said they were against the 50 year compensation that the LHDA had offered to pay in installments.
“It is the right of the Mokhotlong communities to have access to clean water, electricity and hygienical (toilets) services. All Mokhotlong communities (not only affected communities) should have access to these services,” Mr Matalasi said, adding “we want all our compensation monies to be paid to us in full before we are relocated to the designated places”.
He further said that the Mokhotlong communities should be given first priority when it came to jobs in the project.
He said they were not happy that the Maluba-lube community had not been compensated for the 61 trees and a rangeland that had been lost to the project. He also called on the LHDA to buy them animal feeds because they had lost their rangelands to the project.
Other villagers who spoke to this publication during the protests threatened to “do everything” in their power including obstructing the project to ensure that the LHDA listens to them and addresses their grievances.
“In the past we protested and they (LHDA) did nothing and it seems like they are taking us for granted. They think we are just going give up on our demands but this project will not go ahead unless they address our grievances. We will shut down this project,” one villager said.
Another villager said she was not happy with the LHDA’s alleged failure to honour its promise to compensate them on 3 May 2019.
“They have managed to bully us into agreeing to abide by the compensation policy that we are not happy with and on top of that, Ntate Mokone lied to us and said they were going to settle our compensation in full on 3 May 2019. That date has passed and he has not said anything to us. We are planning to do something drastic to get the government to listen to us,” she said.
Another villager said they would escalate their grievances to the Water Minister, Samonyane Ntsekele. He said it was time their issues were addressed politically.
“I want Ntate Ntsekele to come and talk to us. The government should listen to us or risk delays in the implementation of this project. They should not think that ours are empty threats,” he said.
On his part, Mr Mokone told the protestors that the LHDA would go ahead with the construction of the Polihali Dam. He also said that the villagers would be given access to essential services like water, electricity and sanitation.
He said they would also construct roads, houses and bridges and “the Mokhotlong communities will be employed under this project to enable them to support their families”.
“The communities will also have opportunities to operate businesses during the tenure of the project and after. Many families are going to lose their farms, houses, kraals and others and they will be well compensated as per the compensation policy.
“We acknowledge that you are here to present your grievances and we will take up your issues with the management which will address them and get back to you. We are treating your issues with the respect they deserve and we promise you that they will be handled in a manner that is satisfactory,” Mr Mokone said.