It is the largest water scheme of its kind in the world. It is a brilliant engineering feat surpassed by none of its kind, and has opened once inaccessible rugged Lesotho highlands through a series of roads that lead to its large reservoirs such as the Katse, Mohale, and Muela dams.
It is a multi–billion Dollar project called the Lesotho Highland Development Project (LHWP) which enjoys the financial support of multi–national corporations such as the World Bank and others and injects millions of Maloti into the Lesotho economy by selling water to the economic powerhouse of the Gauteng province, South Africa.
However, in all the places that were affected by the project, it has left a trail of poverty, hopelessness, discontent and despair despite earlier promises that communities affected by the construction works of the mammoth project would enjoy benefits that would upgrade their standard of living and ensure sustainable development of their areas.
The poverty, hopelessness, discontent and despair of the communities affected by the LHWP emerged during a visit by members of Lesotho s Parliament to the areas organized by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) a non–governmental organization charged with, amongst others, monitoring of the social and environmental aspects of the Project.
First–stop was Masapong, Ha Ntsi alongside the Lesotho Highlands Water Project s mountain road leading to the recently completed Mohale dam which would soon transfer water to the Katse Reservoir which in turn transfers water to the Muela dam for final delivery to South Africa.
According to Monaheng Mahlakeng, the chairman of a committee that liases with the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) on matters that affect the community and the Project told the visiting Parliamentarians that when LHDA established a quarry for crush stones to be used in the construction of the road leading to Mohale dam it made some promises which it did not fulfill until the present day.
The quarry was established by the LHDA in 1995 under certain conditions. Unfortunately those conditions were never written down. But it was decided that the quarry would affect an area of 500 square metres, and the LHDA would build anew houses of the villagers that would be affected by the quarry during blasting of rocks to make the necessary crush stones, he added. He pointed out that a total of 157 houses fell within the 500 square metres affected by the Project s quarry, and indeed many of them were affected by debris resultant from the blasting works of the quarry.
When we approached LHDA to repair the houses, they told us that cracks on our houses were a result of poor and shoddy workmanship of the people who originally built our houses and not the effects of blasting from the quarry. After that they disappeared. We invited the Minister of Natural Resources, Monyane Moleleki to the area during which LHDA indicated that they could only afford to build anew 16 houses. Suprisingly houses situated next to the quarry were not built or repaired. Instead they built houses of their own choice. We do not know the criteria used by LHDA in choosing which houses to build, he said.
Mahlakeng pointed out that they approached non–governmental organizations to assist and engage them in dialogue with the LHDA on the compensation for damaged houses.
As we were in the process of doing this, a new Asian–controlled company called Southern Sky started operations on the quarry without the permission of the Chief of the area, Thamae Thamae. Despite several attempts by Chief Thamae to urge the management of Southern Sky to examine houses damaged by LHDA operations on the quarry, they decided to ignore him and continued with their operations. They also reneged on the establishment of a coordinating committee comprising its management and the members of the community that would look into the socio, economic and environmental impact of the quarry on the lives of the people living next to it. These included people who got sick due dust emissions from the quarry, he said.
The visibly disgruntled Mahlakeng said that owners of the six agricultural fields that were taken by the LHDA when it started the quarry in 1995 were not compensated as per agreement with LHDA that they would be compensated for a period of 50 years.
He disclosed that the Minister of Natural Resources, Moleleki and the Principal chief of Thaba–Bosiu, Khoabane Theko authorized the establishment and operations of the quarry without consultation with the local community, and gave the management of Southern Sky a go–ahead to operate the quarry.
We have written to the Prime Minister to intervene in this matter. But no reply has been forthcoming from his office. Now we want to get a court order to prevent Southern Sky from continuing with operations on the quarry until all its social and environmental aspects have been discussed. We also want Southern Sky to plough back some money into development projects within the Ha Ntsi community as it has come here to make profit by selling the crush stones from the quarry, he added.
On behalf of the delegation of Parliamentarians, the Leader of the Basotuland African Congress, Molapo Qhobela said: We fully understand the problems you are facing. We are not making promises as of now because we still need to discuss this matter with our colleagues in Parliament. But, I can assure you that we will deal with this matter very seriously and engage the Minister of Natural Resources in dialogue in regard to this matter.
Qhobela s sentiments were echoed by Senator Anna Majara who indicated that the matter would be discussed with the Prime Minister as soon as possible. We will form ourselves into a committee to deal with this issue and will come back to you in the near future to give you a feedback on the progress we have made, she concluded.
The visit was intended to acquaint members of the legislature with developments relating to social and environmental aspects of the LHWP and to intensify publicity of the issues concerning the communities affected by the LHWP.
Representatives of five opposition political parties in Parliament took part in the trip. They included the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), Basotuland African Congress (BAC), Lesotho Workers Party (LWP), National Independence Party (NIP) and Senator Anna Majara. Conspicuous by its absence was the representative of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).