…LHDA in assets verification drive ahead of multi-million maloti cash pay-outs for affected villagers
THOUSANDS of villagers are set to receive huge cash pay-outs and other forms of compensation from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) which will relocate them from their homes to make way for the construction of the Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong.
The Polihali Dam is due to be constructed in terms of the bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP Phase II).
The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
Phase I of the LHWP, consisting of the Katse and Mohale dams, the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.
The bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation and power lines).
The LHDA recently revealed that from 23 to 29 May this year, it will hold meetings with 29 villages who will be affected by the construction of the 132kv powerline from Ha Lejone in Leribe district to Polihali Dam site in Mokhotlong.
Among other things, the meetings will be used to verify the number of people that will be affected by the project, the amount of land for which they will have to be compensated as well as the cost of the whole compensation package.
The LHDA has already conducted a survey from June 2017 to February 2018 to assess which villages would be affected by the Polihali powerline.
The survey was conducted with the assistance of the areas chiefs who registered the people who would be affected by the Polihali project and their assets.
In all, 15 meetings will be held beginning at Ha Ratau village on 23 May and ending at Ha Ramonakalali on 29 May.
Other villages where the meetings will be held in are Ha Mating, Ha Bloem, Ha Tlelase, Ha Salemone, Phakoeng, Ha ‘Makhoana, Ha T?ehla, Kosheteng, Monothotsa, Ha Maotoana, Ha Mosalla, Ha ‘Mei and Ha Makhoarane.
Polihali operations manager, Gerard Mokone, yesterday told the Sunday Express that the LHDA would compensate the communities for the loss of their agricultural land, residential plots, grazing pastures and trees.
“We will be transporting a very high voltage electricity from Matsoku Sub-station in Leribe which will be used in the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong which is scheduled to start sometime next year,” Mokone said.
“The high voltage means it will be dangerous and therefore we intend to move and compensate people whose assets will be affected. The affected people will be given the opportunity to choose the areas they prefer to be moved to.
“It is only after the (23 May to 29 May) meetings that we will be able to tell the total compensation costs which will be paid out by LHDA as we may have done miscalculations during our survey,” he said.
Given the number of villages (29) and the amounts the LHDA has set for some of the assets including fruit trees, residential and agricultural land, the total pay-out is likely to run into several millions of maloti.
Mr Mokone however, said the villagers would only be given half compensation for the agricultural land as they would still be allowed to utilise their former land after the construction of the powerline.
He said the LHDA would offer compensation in the form of cash, grain and beans and land for land.
He said the affected families were free to choose the form of compensation that best suits them.
“Families are free to choose grain and beans which comes yearly, lump sum cash or land for land,” Mr Mokone said.
He said it was too early to say how much the LHDA would have to fork out in cash and how many families were affected.
He however, said the monetary compensation for residential land had been pegged at M200 per square metre and M15 for a square metre of agricultural land.
He said they would compensate villagers for the loss of fuel trees (trees for firewood) at the rate of M800 per tree and M1800 for each fruit trees.
Mr Mokone said villagers would also be compensated for their houses and they would also participate in the planning of their new houses.
“Each house with an area of more than 20 square metres will be compensated with another one of an equal area while those that are smaller than 20 square metres will be compensated for with a house of standard size of 20 square metres.
“The villagers will also determine the material to be used in the construction of their houses,” Mr Mokone said.
He said despite the negative reports from some pressure groups about the LHDA’s interactions with the villagers and the proposed compensation, the local communities were responding positively to the LHDA.
“The mood is actually positive as the villagers are looking forward to jobs, business opportunities and infrastructure development. However, since there is money involved, it may not be possible to please everyone,” Mr Mokone said.
While Mr Mokone did not name the pressure groups, some of the villagers joined the Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD), an organisation which has threatened to disrupt the dam construction if its demands for compensation are not met.
SOLD is a civic human rights organisation committed to promoting social justice among communities affected by dams, mines and other large infrastructure developments.
The organisation was established in 2004 after some of the communities affected by the LHWP Phase I were not compensated and others only received compensation several years after the completion of the Katse and Mohale dams.
SOLD National Coordinator, Lenka Thamae, said in February that the organisation was watching the Polihali developments with keen interest.
“We are aware that the affected communities have been complaining that compensation is too little and inadequate.
“We have used the courts before to force the authority to come to the table and listen to the community’s grievances. We have enough numbers to ensure that the project comes to a standstill,” Mr Thamae said.
He further called on the LHDA to ensure that the relocated communities were provided with clean water and sanitation before the dam construction starts.