Poli­hali: A bless­ing or curse?

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

The Le­sotho high­lands Wa­terr Project (LHWP) — a mul­ti­phase bi­lat­er­alal project com­pris­ing a sys­tem of dams and tun­nel­sun­nels for wa­ter-trans­fer from the Or­ange River ver catch­ment in Le­sotho to South Africa’s Gaut­eng prov­ince, as well as a power-gen­er­at­ingt­ing plant at Muela — re­mains one of the sub­jects­b­jects that gen­er­ates heated de­bate among Ba­sotho.sotho.

Born out of a Treaty signed in 1986 be­tween Le­sotho and South Africa, thehe project came un­der the spot­light once againn on Tues­day last week dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tio­nion of new Prime Min­is­ter, Pakalitha Mo­sisili,, at Set­soto Sta­dium. In his ad­dress, out­go­ingg pre­mier, Thomas Tha­bane ad­vised Dr Mo­sisili sili to en­sure the project is equally ben­e­fi­cialial to Le­sotho cit­i­zens fol­low­ing pre­vi­ous ar­gu­mentsr­gu­ments that it was tilted in South Africa’sa’s favour. The Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, this week speaks to Trans­for­ma­tion Re­source Cen­tre Pro­gramme me head, Lenka Thamae, about the LHWP.

Mr Thamae is head of wa­ter andd en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues in the democ­racy andnd hu­man rights non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion. ion.

LT: Let’s start with a bit of back­ack­ground re­gard­ing the LHWP.P. Phase 1A of the project com­prised the con­struc­tion of Katse and Muela dams, as well as wa­ter trans­fer tun­nels, and this was im­ple­mented be­tween 1990 and 1998, while Phase 1B con­sisted mainly of Mohale Dam, Mohale Tun­nel and Mat­soku Tun­nel and Weir, which have also since been com­pleted. Phase II of the project has Poli­hali Dam, among other de­vel­op­ments. Could you please tell us more about this phase, which has di­vided opin­ion among Ba­sotho as it is al­leged to be tilted in South Africa’s favour, living Le­sotho high and dry, so to speak?

Thamae: Poli­hali is one of a se­ries of ar­eas in which fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies were con­ducted to check the viability of es­tab­lish­ing a dam for the sec­ond phase of the Le­sotho high­lands Wa­ter Project. Other ar­eas in­cluded Taung, Mashai, Le­be­lonyane and Tsoe­like. It was dis­cov­ered that although all th­ese ar­eas were vi­able, Poli­hali was the most suit­able be­cause of its gra­di­ent, which meant wa­ter would flow with­out too much ex­penses be­ing in­curred. Poli­hali was also the best be­cause it was re­alised that un­like th­ese other ar­eas, not many peo­ple were go­ing to be af­fected or dis­placed by its estab­lish­ment.

LT: But it is ar­gued that the project was sup­posed to go to Mashai in­stead of Poli­hali. What ex­actly hap­pened?

Thamae: It was first an­nounced by the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties do­ing the project that Mashai was the most suit­able site and not Poli­hali. But things later changed and Poli­hali was now an­nounced the most vi­able of them all. This has an­gered the peo­ple of Mashai and Koma-koma –– the lat­ter is a vil­lage not far away from the for­mer. In fact, the ar­eas are just di­vided by the Senqu River. The vil­lagers are mostly an­gered by the fact that even af­ter a de­ci­sion was made to change the project from be­ing es­tab­lished in Mashai, no­body came to them to ex­plain why.

I ac­tu­ally in­ter­viewed them and they said they wanted to be com­pen­sated for the fact that they were promised the dam was go­ing to be con­structed in their area and sud­denly, they were told it would be built in Poli­hali.

They are say­ing that some of their peo­ple, af­ter they were told that the dam was com­ing, started re­lo­cat­ing to make way for the project.

The Mashai and Koma-koma peo­ple are also say­ing the estab­lish­ment of the dam in Poli­hali is still go­ing to af­fect them be­cause the con­struc­tion is go­ing to block the flow of Senqu River which passes through their area.

The river is so near Koma-koma vil­lage that the vil­lagers use its wa­ter on a daily ba­sis. They want to be com­pen­sated for that too.

But un­for­tu­nately, there is no one from the project who lis­tens to what they are say­ing.

LT: But was there a point when they were told by the project au­thor­i­ties to move from their homes to make way for the dam’s con­struc­tion?

Thamae: Yes; they were told that the dam was go­ing to be built in their area, and even ad­vised to stop build­ing any new homes and they com­plied.

LT: So what are the au­thor­i­ties say­ing about this now?

Thamae: They are dis­tanc­ing them­selves from this is­sue, of-course. They are say­ing what they know is that the dam is go­ing to be built in Poli­hali not Mashai. They do not care about what th­ese peo­ple were told be­fore a de­ci­sion to switch the dam to Poli­hali was made.

The gov­ern­ment, as a stake­holder in the project, will have to pro­nounce it­self re­gard­ing this is­sue which has dis­turbed the peo­ple of Mashai. Th­ese peo­ple should be com­pen­sated.

LT: There is an agree­ment signed be­tween Le­sotho and South Africa over the project. The agree­ment has been a sub­ject of crit­i­cism with some Ba­sotho say­ing it is in favour of South Africa. What are your views re­gard­ing this is­sue?

Thamae: I am di­rectly deal­ing with LHWP is­sues on be­half of TRC, to see how best this project can go in as far as ben­e­fit­ing the peo­ple of this coun­try is con­cerned. We are look­ing at how the project af­fects peo­ple’s lives and the en­vi­ron­ment. We have since pub­lished sev­eral books re­lated to the project where we wrote about is­sues such as public par­tic­i­pa­tion, the ex­pe­ri­ences of our peo­ple as they moved from their homes to new ones due to the project and lessons learnt from the LHWP since its estab­lish­ment.

We would want to help the peo­ple un­der­stand, through th­ese pub­li­ca­tions, whether truly this is the devel­op­ment we are ex­pect­ing with the project. Re­cently, I was driven by or­di­nary peo­ple talk­ing about the project, to write a new book about the is­sue. The talk has been that the project favours and benefits South Africa over Le­sotho.

I am in­ves­ti­gat­ing to find the truth about this through a big project which is go­ing to take some time for me to com­plete. But once it is done, it will go deep into de­tails of what ex­actly is go­ing on be­tween the two coun­tries con­cern­ing the project. It will ex­pose all the pol­i­tics sur­round­ing the project. I am look­ing first at whether Le­sotho was ac­tu­ally cheated when the Treaty was signed in 1986, and also analysing the agree­ments and poli­cies to es­tab­lish what they are say­ing about the project.

Are they sidelin­ing Le­sotho from ben­e­fit­ing from the project? Again, peo­ple are say­ing that Le­sotho was cheated in the sec­ond agree­ment signed by the two coun­tries in 2011 for Phase Two of the project, Poli­hali. Mind the ter­mi­nol­ogy used that the first doc­u­ment signed in 1986 was named a Treaty and the sec­ond signed in 2011 is called Agree­ment.

LT: In his speech dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Mo­sisili, Dr Tha­bane re­quested him to care­fully look into the project. What could have prompted this warn­ing? Thamae: If yo you lis­tened care­fully to what Ntate Tha­bane said, you felt that there was some conc con­cern and that he wanted it ad­dressed. My in­ter­pre­ta­tion from what he said was h his gov­ern­ment had wanted the Agree­ment re­vised. You see in the 2011 Agree­ment, un­like­unl the 1986 Treaty, it is not clearly ex­plaine ex­plained whether Le­sotho will ben­e­fit in ac­cessin­gac­cessin both wa­ter and elec­tric­ity. Ac­tu­ally, the Ag Agree­ment only talks about wa­ter and where it men­tions elec­tric­ity, it has some im­pli­ca­tio im­pli­ca­tion that Le­sotho should es­tab­lish its own elec­tric­i­tyele project sep­a­rate from Poli­hali. But theth Treaty was clear that wa­ter and elec­tric­ity went to­gether. What Ntate Tha­bane was sa say­ing was that elec­tric­ity and wa­ter should be treated in the Agree­ment as one thing, as it was the case in the Treaty. Be­cause of the Treaty, Le­sotho is now able to gen­er­ate its own elec­tric­ity from ’ Muela. Be­fore then, wew used to de­pend en­tirely on South Africa for elec­tric­ity.

LT: But why does the Agree­ment only talk about wa­terwa when it should also in­clude elec­tric­ity?elec­tric

Thamae: S South Africa is in­ter­ested in wa­ter from Le­sotho. Le­sotho, on the other hand, de­mands elec­tric­ity. So you see now where there is an in­ter­est from So South Africa the Agree­ment is clear on is­sues of wa­ter.

The Agree­ment leaves Ba­sotho with veryve lit­tle hope, if ever there is, that el elec­tric­ity will form part of the proje project. else­where in the Agreemen ment, it is stated that a study will be con­duct­edc to see whether elec­tri tric­ity will be vi­able for Le­sotho in the project. The pos­si­bil­ity is that we might end up not hav­ing elec­tric­ity at all in the Poli­hali project while South Africa en­joys ac­cess to our wa­ter. At some point, a long time ago around 2003, I proph­e­sized that the high­lands Wa­ter Project will be a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor as to who will rule this coun­try and who will not. I said the project will in­stall and re­move gov­ern­ments. That was my prophecy. Those will­ing to give away our wa­ter to other coun­tries through the cheap­est means or freely will re­main in power. But those car­ing much about Ba­sotho and are strict on its nat­u­ral re­sources be­ing eroded to other coun­tries will not be suc­cess­ful in power. I fear men­tion­ing spe­cific names of peo­ple and po­lit­i­cal par­ties which are al­ready ben­e­fit­ing through this prophecy lest I disturb gov­ern­ments.

LT: Could you elab­o­rate on this?

Thamae: We are living in the mod­ern world where we have be­come but one com­mu­nity. It is called glob­al­i­sa­tion. We are now talk­ing about the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of coun­tries.

What hap­pens in one coun­try also hap­pens in an­other. Gov­ern­ments have huge in­flu­ence over oth­ers. There are cir­cum­stances in which gov­ern­ments de­ter­mine who should be in power in coun­tries which are not their own. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple is whereby such a coun­try is poor and de­pends on oth­ers, which means those that are able to feed the poor coun­try can eas­ily in­flu­ence its gov­ern­ment.

LT: Are you say­ing South Africa has di­rect in­ter­est in who forms gov­ern­ment in Le­sotho be­cause of its in­ter­ests in our nat­u­ral re­sources as a coun­try?

Thamae: Yes. South Africa, like any other coun­try in the in­ter­na­tional sphere, has its for­eign pol­icy that in­cludes that Le­sotho should be part of it. This is be­cause Le­sotho is rich in min­er­als which they want. South Africa does not only want wa­ter from Le­sotho; it wants the com­mod­ity free of charge. South Africa can do any­thing to get the wa­ter free; the coun­try can go to the ex­tent of sup­port­ing a politi­cian it be­lieves can al­low it easy ac­cess to our nat­u­ral re­sources.

In ad­di­tion to the LHWP, South Africa has in­ter­ests in other min­er­als in Le­sotho, in­clud­ing ura­nium. Le­sotho also has crude oil in places like Ma­hobong, Masianokeng, Mazenod, Liqhobong and other ar­eas. So South Africa wants to get all th­ese through a gov­ern­ment which can­not re­sist.

TRC Pro­gramme Head Lenka Thamae

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