Storm brews in Mokhot­long

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

MOKHOT­LONG – a storm is brew­ing in Mokhot­long with res­i­dents de­mand­ing their con­cerns to be ad­dressed first be­fore they could be dis­placed by phase two of the Le­sotho High­lands Water Project (LHWP).

Public gath­er­ings held last week in Ha Le­bopo and Tha­bang vil­lages by two non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions — Trans­for­ma­tion Re­source Cen­tre (TRC) and Seinoli le­gal Cen­tre (SLC) — re­vealed sim­mer­ing anger among com­mu­nity mem­bers who are not happy with the lack of in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the com­pen­sa­tion they are sup­posed to re­ceive for leav­ing their an­ces­tral land to pave way for the multi­bil­lion-mal­oti project.

SLC is a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion which pro­vides in­de­pen­dent, long-term com­mu­nity le­gal em­pow­er­ment es­pe­cially for com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by the LHWP, while TRC is a hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion.

In ad­di­tion to the construction of Poli­hali dam at the con­flu­ence of Khubelu and Senqu rivers in Malin­goa­neng, the Muela hy­dropower sta­tion would also be up­graded un­der phase two of the LHWP. A 38.2-kilo­me­tre water-trans­fer tun­nel con­nect­ing Poli­hali with Muela, roads, camps, power-trans­mis­sion lines and ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­tres would also be con­structed un­der the M15 bil­lion-project, which is be­ing jointly un­der­taken by Le­sotho and South Africa un­der a treaty the two gov­ern­ments signed in 1986.

In le­sotho, the mul­ti­phase LHWP is be­ing man­aged by the Le­sotho High­lands Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (LHDA).

Ha Le­bopo and Tha­bang are two of the 24 vil­lages set to lose land to the project, with com­pen­sa­tion ex­pected to cover a max­i­mum of 50 years as per the LHWP Phase II Com­pen­sa­tion Draft Pol­icy.

How­ever, the vil­lagers are not happy with this pro­posal and want the com­pen­sa­tion to cover at least 99 years.

Phase One of the project in­volved the construction of Katse and Mo­hale dams, Muela hy­dropower-sta­tion and as­so­ci­ated tun­nels and was in­au­gu­rated in 2004.

Phase Two pro­cesses be­gan in 2010 and the project is ear­marked for com­ple­tion in 2023.

South Africa seeks to aug­ment its water sup­ply through the project, while Le­sotho ex­pects to ben­e­fit from in­fras­truc­ture such as roads, as well as roy­al­ties and elec­tric­ity, from the ini­tia­tive.

To pave way for Phase One of the project, gov­ern­ment, through the LHDA, em­barked on a re­set­tle­ment ex­er­cise through which af­fected house­holds were com­pen­sated and re­lo­cated to ar­eas such as Ha ‘Ne­lese and Ha thet­sane in Maseru.

In ad­di­tion, vil­lagers whose fields were af­fected by the dams were also com­pen­sated for loss of pas­ture, medic­i­nal plants and her­itage, among oth­ers. Com­pen­sa­tion for those af­fected un­der this phase was for a max­i­mum of 15 years, but the vil­lagers com­plained bit­terly about this du­ra­tion which they con­sid­ered too short. The res­i­dents also com­plained they lacked fi­nan­cial man­age­ment skills which the au­thor­ity should have pro­vided, hence they squan­dered their money with­out in­vest­ing it in in­come-gen­er­at­ing projects.

One of vil­lagers af­fected by Phase One is anna Moepi, who ad­dressed Ha le­bopo vil­lagers on Tues­day last week dur­ing the TRC and SLC gath­er­ing. Ms Moepi warned the vil­lagers against mak­ing rash de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the com­pen­sa­tion, while also al­leg­ing it took “years” be­fore the com­pen­sa­tion was disbursed “and even when it fi­nally came, we didn’t know how to use it be­cause we had not been taught how to man­age large sums of money”.

Ms Moepi also ad­vised the res­i­dents against ac­cept­ing 50-year com­pen­sa­tion, which she claimed was “too short”.

“We were given a lot of money but now we are broke. We don’t even have money to buy elec­tric­ity and water yet if we were still stay­ing in our orig­i­nal ru­ral homes, we would be farm­ing and liv­ing off our land. In 50 years, you would have fin­ished that money and then what? And what about your chil­dren, your grand­chil­dren and your great, great grand­chil­dren?” she said.

Ms Moepi’s ad­vice, to­gether with ad­dresses by TRC and SLC of­fi­cials, re­in­forced the res­i­dents’ be­lief that the LHWP Phase II Com­pen­sa­tion Pol­icy Draft 5 com­pleted in De­cem­ber 2014 should be re­viewed.

The over­all goal of the draft pol­icy is to en­sure the project com­plies with all le­gal obli­ga­tions through the de­sign and im­ple­men­ta­tion of a re­set­tle­ment pro­gramme that gives the af­fected peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to at least re- store their liveli­hoods and stan­dards of liv­ing.

This draft fur­ther pro­motes the par­tic­i­pa­tory de­sign of com­pen­sa­tion, re­set­tle­ment and liveli­hood restora­tion mea­sures for both af­fected and host com­mu­ni­ties.

The draft pol­icy reads in part: “Im­ple­men­ta­tion of Phase II will lead to phys­i­cal and eco­nomic displacement and have po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts on the liveli­hoods and so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. The Phase II Fea­si­bil­ity Study es­ti­mates that Poli­hali Reser­voir will ne­ces­si­tate the re­lo­ca­tion of 272 house­holds from five com­pletely in­un­dated vil­lages and a fur­ther five par­tially in­un­dated vil­lages, while a fur­ther six vil­lages will be threat­ened due to close prox­im­ity to the water body and/or sig­nif­i­cantly im­peded ac­cess.

“In ad­di­tion, many house­holds will be eco­nom­i­cally dis­placed due to the in­un­da­tion or ac­qui­si­tion of their arable and graz­ing land and other nat­u­ral re­sources, and im­peded ac­cess to re­sources, fa­cil­i­ties and other vil­lages. The town of Mokhot­long, lo­cated at the head­wa­ters of the Poli­hali Reser­voir, will be marginally af­fected by im­pound­ment of the Reser­voir. the Phase II agree­ment stip­u­lates the prepa­ra­tion of a com­pen­sa­tion pol­icy to ad­dress th­ese in­vol­un­tary re­set­tle­ment im­pacts. This Com­pen­sa­tion Pol­icy has sub­se­quently been pre­pared for Phase II, tak­ing ac­count of the ex­ist­ing Phase I Com­pen­sa­tion Pol­icy and the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Phase II Fea­si­bil­ity Study. The Pol­icy cov­ers com­pen­sa­tion, re­set­tle­ment and liveli­hood restora­tion.”

The draft was said to have been pre­pared af­ter con­sul­ta­tions with af­fected com­mu­ni­ties, their au­thor­i­ties and other key stake­hold­ers.

Speak­ing to the Le­sotho Times at last week’s gath­er­ing, Chief Naha Le­bopo of Ha Le­bopo said be­ing com­pen­sated for 50 years was not fair since most of the vil­lagers en­tirely de­pend on agri­cul­ture.

Un­til now, Chief Le­bopo (61) had let his wife, ‘ Ma­li­neo, hold fort as Ha Le­bopo chief while he worked in the South African mines.

“House­holds in my vil­lage de­pend en­tirely on agri­cul­ture. For those who don’t have farm­land, they do farm­ing piece-jobs and are ei­ther paid cash or given food depend­ing on the em­ployer,” Chief Le­bopo said.

“But we are about to lose all that as I un­der­stand the Poli­hali Dam project is go­ing to take our fields, pas­ture, trees, fire­wood and medic­i­nal plants. This is the sad re­al­ity for ev­ery af­fected house­hold.

“How­ever, we still be­lieve this project can change our lives for the bet­ter but that can only hap­pen if we get life­time com­pen­sa­tion. Our grand­chil­dren must con­tinue to reap the re­wards of this project years af­ter we have died be­cause we are ben­e­fit­ing from land left to us by our fore­fa­thers.”

The chief fur­ther said he was ex­pect­ing Com­bined area li­ai­son Com­mit­tee (Calc) mem­bers re­spon­si­ble for the project to take the vil­lagers’ con­cerns to the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties. CALC links the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties with the LHDA and gov­ern­ment.

Chief Le­bopo added: “To show that some­thing is not right about this com­pen­sa­tion, we don’t even know of­fi­cially how much each per­son is go­ing to re­ceive as com­pen­sa­tion money. What we only have is ver­bal in­for­ma­tion and we de­mand that ev­ery sin­gle de­tail re­lated to this com­pen­sa­tion pol­icy must be com­mu­ni­cated in writ­ing. We are work­ing very hard to en­sure the LHDA ac­counts for ev­ery sin­gle prom­ise it has made and must stop send­ing dif­fer­ent of­fi­cials to us be­cause when they come, they say they are not aware of what was dis­cussed in the pre­vi­ous meet­ing.”

On her part, Ms ‘Ma­li­neo thanked TRC and Seinoli Le­gal Cen­tre for “open­ing our eyes”

She added: “Th­ese peo­ple have not come here to tell us what they are go­ing to do with­out first seek­ing our opin­ions al­though they are go­ing to help us get what we de­serve from the Poli­hali project.

“They have opened our eyes; we know what we want and they must give us what we need, not what they think we need. We de­mand life­time com­pen­sa­tion or at least 99 years, not th­ese 50 years reached with­out public con­sul­ta­tion.”

an­other vil­lager, Bo­lae Mata­lasi, said the com­mu­nity was not happy the project had “al­ready started im­pos­ing de­ci­sions on us”.

He added: “Our don­keys are trans­port­ing things like ce­ment for the dam’s de­mar­ca­tions. For ev­ery hired don­key, the owner was paid M50 per day while peo­ple got M92. We never liked this and when we protested, the con­trac­tor tried to en­gage other vil­lagers. the sit­u­a­tion de­te­ri­o­rated to the ex­tent that we were threat­ened by act­ing Mokhot­long Prin­ci­pal Chief Tšepo Seeiso.”

“This prac­tice of im­pos­ing de­ci­sions on us is still con­tin­u­ing but we will fight un­til the LHDA lis­tens to us and ef­fects the changes we de­mand.”

An­other vil­lager, 44-year-old Paul Badela, ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of “hid­ing be­hind LHDA” in­stead of en­gag­ing af­fected commu- ni­ties.

“the gov­ern­ment never holds meet­ings to ad­dress us and wants to hide be­hind LHDA in this is­sue. the gov­ern­ment does not want to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions, hence this hid­ing be­hind LHDA,” Mr Badela said.

‘Mam­polo­keng Puput­loane, an­other vil­lager, also said lo­cals should be pri­or­i­tized when the project is re­cruit­ing gen­eral labour.

“The project must give our chil­dren pri­or­ity when em­ploy­ing peo­ple. We have been told they are go­ing to do that but based on past LHWP ex­pe­ri­ences, we need this to be com­mu­ni­cated in writ­ing,” Ms Puput­loane said.

Mean­while, Ha le­bopo Calc mem­ber, Seisa Ma­hemu, said their at­tempts to take vil­lagers’ con­cerns to the au­thor­i­ties were not bear­ing fruit.

“How­ever, what makes me happy is that Ha Le­bopo is known for be­ing vo­cal and the LHDA knows our po­si­tion, which is that we need life­time com­pen­sa­tion, elec­tric­ity and also that pro­ceeds from our re­sources should be shared among the lo­cal com­mu­nity. This is our money and we want it to be shared among the vil­lagers. How­ever, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears but we will not stop fight­ing. We will shout un­til the whole world hears our appeals,” Mr Ma­hemu said.

He con­tin­ued: “We love this project. We have noth­ing against it. this is big devel­op­ment for our coun­try. How­ever, we shouldn’t be de­prived of our right­ful as­sets. If the project takes land from us, it’s only fair that they give us life­time com­pen­sa­tion and ne­go­ti­ate with­out us in­stead of dic­tat­ing to us.

“We are sit­ting on wet­lands here and we need to have ac­cess to this same water from the Poli­hali Dam. They must stop threat­en­ing us day and night through the prin­ci­pal chief and they must start an­swer­ing our ques­tions.”

Mean­while, the two NGOS held an­other public gath­er­ing in Tha­bang on Wed­nes­day last week.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, LHDA Com­mu­nity Par­tic­i­pa­tion Of­fi­cer, Koali Hla­soa, told the gath­er­ing he was aware of their griev­ances and had asked man­age­ment to come and ad­dress them.

How­ever, the vil­lagers an­grily told Mr Hla­soa that they needed the re­sponse “now”.

But Mr Hla­soa said he was not the right per­son to give a re­sponse and fur­ther said LHDA au­thor­i­ties might call a press con­fer­ence this week and ad­dress the is­sue.

On his part, Act­ing Prin­ci­pal Chief Tšepo Seeiso de­nied threat­en­ing Ha le­bopo vil­lagers.

“The prob­lem is you talked to those peo­ple in my ab­sence. How­ever, I didn’t go to Ha le­bopo to dis­cuss the project but rather is­sues sur­round­ing the vil­lagers’ don­keys. The vil­lagers were re­fus­ing to re­lease the don­keys to the con­trac­tor as they couldn’t agree on the pay­ment but at the same time, they were pre­vent­ing those who had agreed on the charge from work­ing with the con­trac­tor.

“That’s why I went there — to tell them the con­trac­tor was free to out­source don­keys from other vil­lages,” he said.

We were given a lot of money but now we are broke. We don’t even have money to buy elec­tric­ity and water yet if we were still stay­ing in our orig­i­nal ru­ral homes, we would be farm­ing and liv­ing off our land. In 50 years, you would have fin­ished that money and then what? And what about your chil­dren, your grand­chil­dren and your great, great grand­chil­dren?

Ha le­bopo vil­lagers lis­ten at­ten­tively dur­ing last week’s public gath­er­ing.

Ha le­bopo chief Naha le­bopo.

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