A DELEGATION from the South African parliamentary portfolio committee on water and sanitation will visit Lesotho next month on a fact-finding mission following a petition by a local non-governmental organisation requesting their intervention to ensure “satisfactory compensation” for local communities affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II.
Among other things, the Survivors of the Lesotho Dams (SOLD) – an NGO which represents families that were affected by the LHWP Phase I and those that will be affected by LHWP Phase II- wants the local communities to be given 10 percent of the royalties from the project.
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, which will see the construction of the Polihali Dam is currently in progress. 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.
Local communities in Mokhotlong, who joined the SOLD organisation, are threatening to disrupt the Polihali dam construction if their demands for compensation are not met.
The communities want 99-year compensation from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (the implementing authority of the LHWP) for the loss of their land and livelihoods but the former has insisted that its offer of compensation for 50 years is final.
Recently, the SOLD National Coordinator, Lenka Thamae, said the South African parliamentary portfolio committee on water and sanitation would soon visit the country after they took their grievances to the neighbouring country on 6 March 2018.
Mr Thamae said they asked the South African parliament to use its influence to have the LHDA’s compensation policy reviewed to meet their compensation demands.
“The Phase II compensation policy is the reason why we asked for their intervention and we want lifetime compensation and a 10 percent share of the royalties generated from the LHWP,” Mr Thamae said.
“We had a number of pointers which we raised and asked that they be reviewed in the LHDA compensation policy but to our surprise most of them were not addressed. For example we had asked that vulnerable children should be taken to school but the policy only caters for orphaned children.”
Mr Thamae also said that they requested that the entire Mokhotlong community be given water and toilets but the LHDA stated that only the affected people will benefit from the water and sanitation project.
He said the entire Mokhotlong community had a right to water, toilets, electricity and other development projects, adding the LHDA had an obligation to ensure these rights were enjoyed by the community.
The chairperson of the South African parliamentary portfolio Committee on water and sanitation, Lulu Johnson, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that they would visit Lesotho towards the end of next month following the petition by SOLD.
“We have an important relationship with Lesotho and it is important to meet with our counterparts and negotiate to reach a better solution of the challenges being faced,” Mr Johnson said.
The LHDA recently defended itself against claims that its compensation policy did not fully address the needs of the affected communities.
Gerard Mokena, Polihali Branch Manager for Social Development and Environment, said there was a “broad consensus” that the authority’s compensation policy was very generous. He said the villagers had only indicated that they needed training in financial literacy and entrepreneurship to enable them to make the most of what they would receive from the LHDA.
He said the LHDA had responded by engaging local financial institutions to train the villagers to ensure that they were financially literate. It was therefore surprising to now hear of complaints regarding the inadequacies of the compensation packages yet these had been formulated in consultations with the CSOs, he said.
“We are not saying we are not going to listen to the people’s views but intensive consultations were held before the Phase 11 compensation policy was approved,” Mr Mokena said.
“The NGOs were happy with the policy that we developed together but it is surprising that they are now attacking the same policy that they said was well done. They agreed that there was proper public participation in the formulation of the policy,” he said.
The LHDA insists that its new compensation policy is very generous with awards as high as M2000 for each fruit tree and M11 685.06 per household for ash heaps where they dump residual coals from domestic use. The ash heaps are also used as graves for still-born babies.
The villagers will also receive M200 for every square metre of their garden land which is taken over by the project, M14.60 per square metre of arable land and M0.20 for range land. They will also be compensated for wild vegetables, medicinal plants and other assets on the range land.
The LHDA also said that it had been wrongly criticised for the local communities’ lack of access to water and electricity despite their being in close proximity to the Katse Dam and hydro power plant constructed during the first phase of the LHWP.
It said the provision of such services did not fall under its purview as theirs was simply to transfer water to South Africa and to generate electricity for Lesotho while the distribution of such within Lesotho was the responsibility of other state agencies.