Open letter to Thabane and Zuma

By MK Malefane

This is a follow-up to my open letter to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on his inauguration published in the Lesotho Times titled New PM must enforce SA-Lesotho relations.

No single challenge has ever put to the litmus test as shall be demonstrated by the final outcome to the current saga surrounding the implementation of the SA-Lesotho bilateral relations’ Highlands Phase 2 Dam-Hydro Project.

While the Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho formed nearly a year ago emerged as the champion of Basotho’s interests in this matter of the Phase 2 project, the final authority rests with Thabane.

The youth will be vindicated in their struggle when he finally meets with his South African counterpart President Jacob Zuma to ratify the implementation agreement.

In signing the final implementation agreement, the two leaders will have had to apply their minds, with the best advice from experts and stakeholders in both countries, whether the needs of both countries are being better served with particular reference to the location of the phase 2 dam construction site vis-à-vis the originally agreed Mashai and current Polihali particularly as this impacts on two major imperatives.

The first imperative on the South African side, we have been told by experts, is that Gauteng, the recipient, will bridge its water security in 2018.

Simply put, from 2018, whether you are in the suburbs of Sandton or townships of Soweto, in the factories, on commercials farms or squatter camps all over Gauteng, there is no guaranteeing when you open taps, there will be water, a looming crisis too ghastly to contemplate.

With the Lesotho Highlands Phase 2 Project as the only current solution, and if this Gauteng water demand curve is to go on such a rapid upward and dangerous spiral as experts have declared, what informed and for what reason was Polihali, with less water capacity (“17 cubic meters per second”) chosen as the new site from the original chosen site of Mashai (with far greater “55 cubic meters per second”)?

Further, we are told by experts that the hydro power twin component in the SA-Lesotho agreement, of benefit to both countries, will in all likelihood not be implemented with Polihali whereas Mashai offered the best possibilities.

The public certainly should be afforded clarification and explanations here.

The second imperative, on the Lesotho side, besides electricity generated from hydro power and ancillary social benefits, the M20 billion infrastructure development that is Phase 2 can and should be extended to incorporate an industrial manufacturing zone and tourism resort city and bring far greater job creation and economic development benefits to Lesotho (and by extension to South Africa itself), particularly given South Africa’s decision to phase out the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) whose revenue sharing Lesotho’s budget relied on.

Moreover, such (dam-hydro-industrial-tourism development) would serve as a model for the new South African led SACU Industrial Diversification Policy, and what a small coincidence that Thabane has assumed the reins of chairman of SACU.

Either way, whether Polihali or Mashai, these twin imperatives providing a solution to Gauteng’s looming water crisis and greater economic development benefits to Lesotho, the choice of implementation of the project on a finance-design-build turnkey basis could offer a far better solution to make delivery of water to Gauteng far quicker than the current process of awarding individual tenders and placing as a condition to bidding consortium, delivery of extended industrial and tourism investment off-sets.

Such conditions to bidding consortium for the turnkey award would of necessity incorporate the capacity to deliver the following:

(a) finance

(b) capability and track record

(c) time savings

(d) cost savings

(e) investment and economic benefits to Lesotho

(f) job creation and empowerment participation of Basotho (affected communities with their traditional leaders, consultants and contractors and broader business community).

The third imperative, which is least talked about, is the long term planning around South Africa, Lesotho and regionally (especially in the case of Botswana) water demand needs which necessitates consideration of a simultaneous implementation of Phase 2 and 3 (Polihali-Mashai) as well as the Lowlands Water Scheme for the benefit of the Lesotho’s greater population (located in the lowlands) as well as the Free State, Eastern Cape and Natal.

Ahead of the scheduled summit between Thabane and Zuma for the final signing off of the implementation of Phase 2, the two countries would be advised to consider urgently the convening of a stakeholder and role player forum in Lesotho to clarify these outstanding issues and gain inputs for recommendation to their final signing off agreement.

This forum would, at the very least, not only inform and educate the public on the challenges and processes leading up to the implementation of Phase 2 but as well, earn the project political ratification, a requirement for the implementation’s legitimacy.

The recommendation here is for officials of countries’ water, energy and trade and industry departments, to lead preparations for this Lesotho-South Africa Forum on the Phase 2 Dam-Hydro Project Implementation.

Failure to heed this advice could result, among other things in legal action by stake holders to block the project’s implementation and in South Africa, with the issue being used to mobilise against the ANC in Gauteng in the April 2014 elections.


  • MK Malefane is a Johannesburg-based, lobbyist, Investment & Development Consultant and Chairman of Highlands (Polihali) Investment and Development Consortium.

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