People due to be resettled by the second dam in the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) in southern Africa have issued a declaration to project authorities which, among other things, demands compensation before they move from their mountain communities to Lesotho’s lowlands. The demands are in response to advice given them by their former neighbors who were resettled from the area in 1998 for the first round of construction on Mohale Dam.Mohale Dam, which will deliver water to South Africass industrial heartland, will displace more than 2,000 people before its scheduled completion in 2001. Nearly 5,000 hectares of valuable cropland will be drowned by the 22.8km reservoir. This represents a significant hardship to affected people because, due to the lack of available land in Lesotho, they will be made dependent on cash compensation. The most important cash crop in the area is marijuana, which is grown by 70 percent of affected households. Because the plant is illegal in Lesotho, it is not included in the compensation policy. This means most household incomes will be reduced by 60–90 percent.
Concerned about their predicament, representatives of soon–to–be–resettled villages met with people who were resettled from the Mohale area two years ago. They wanted to hear their former neighbors’ experiences of resettlement. During the visits, the already resettled people spoke of late and missing compensation payments; the lack of clean water supplies, unfulfilled promises of job training, crowded pastures, and hostility from lowland host communities. They advised the visitors to demand that all promises related to resettlement be fulfilled before they are moved out of their homes. “If you wait until after you’ve been moved,” they warned, “you will find you have no more power than a toothless dog.”
Following the visits, the concerned villages sent representatives to an NGO–convened workshop where they discussed their fears about the resettlement process. They then drew up a declaration which addressed these concerns. The declaration’s 15 demands, in addition to that of compensation prior to resettlement, include a request that compensation be given in a lump sum payment rather than stretched out piecemeal over a period of 50 years. “We want transparency,” the declaration reads, “We want to see how much money we have been compensated and how much interest that money is earning – We want to be in charge of our own assets and to invest our money as we see fit.”
They also demand that project authorities respect their cultural norms by resettling ash heaps (used for medicinal purposes and as burial sites for stillborn children) and by granting them access to grave sites which lie above the inundation zone. They also want to give final approval to the proposed resettlement sites. “We must be provided an opportunity before resettlement to inspect the resettlement sites to see if basic necessities are in place, and if we are satisfied with moving there,” they wrote. The community representatives then signed the declaration and submitted it to the project authorities.
The document has sparked controversy in the project areas. The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) and the World Bank, which is funding the projectss resettlement, have accused local NGOs of imposing their views on affected communities and of causing “confusion” and a “complaint culture” among community members. In a recent letter to the World Bank, TRC’s coordinator, Motseoa Senyane, wrote to the project task manager at the World Bank about the accusations: “Why should the LHDA and Bank be reluctant to minimise the tremendous disruption that is resettlement? In the declaration, communities ask to be compensated before they resettle; they ask for the opportunity to inspect and approve the resettlement sites after LHDA deems them complete; they ask that their cultural norms be respected; and they want the right to manage their own assets. Are these not things that any person facing the prospect of forced removal from her/his home and land would reasonably and rightfully request? Are we to assume that World Bank and LHDA staffmembers would not feel they are entitled to these things if put in the same situation? We doubt it. “Comments and attitudes expressed on the Bank’s recent visit reveal an attitude that the marginalised people of this world need not be afforded the same consideration as those of us who have been ‘educated’ and are lucky enough to fly across oceans to decide the fate of those less fortunate.”
In response, Andrew Macoun, the World Bank task manager for the project, said, “We are fully aware of the disruption resettlement causes and are committed to ensuring that those affected by the LHWP are treated fairly and compassionately. The terms of the treaty concerning resettlement and compensation will be fully implemented.”