MASERU — Lesotho and South Africa have signed an agreement to start the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
The M7.3 billion project will include the construction of the Polihali Dam Mokhotlong and the expansion of the ’Muela Hydropower Station in Butha-Buthe to generate more electricity for the two countries.
Water from the new dam will be used to generate electricity at ’Muela Hydropower Station.
Speaking at the signing ceremony on Thursday, Lesotho’s Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki said the LHWP second phase will increase ’Muela Hydropower Station’s electricity generating capacity from the current from 72 megawatts to 1000 megawatts.
“The Polihali Dam will see Lesotho exporting more water to its giant neighbour as well as generating more electricity to meet its domestic needs,” Moleleki said.
Polihali Dam is expected to be completed in 2017.
Water from Polihali Dam, whose capacity will be 2.2 billion cubic metres, will be multi-tunneled to the Vaal River system to supply South Africa’s Gauteng Province in addition to water pumped from the LHWP phase one’s Katse Dam.
Katse Dam, which is the biggest dam in Lesotho, has a capacity of 1.95 billion cubic metres.
Last year Lesotho received M333 million in royalties from South Africa for water sales from Katse and Mohale Dams.
The amount that the country receives is adjusted according to the rate of inflation to ensure that the benefits to Lesotho are consistent as the project moves forward.
About 13 000 families from Mokhotlong district will be relocated to make way for the construction the 165-metre high Polihali dam.
Moleleki said it was good that the signing of project agreement has been done during women’s month.
He said the project would empower women as they will no longer walk long distances to fetch water and firewood.
“As it is our custom in Africa for our women to bear the brunt of collecting water and firewood, what a way to celebrate collecting water and firewood in this women’s month,” Moleleki said.
South Africa’s Water Affairs minister Edna Molewa said electricity generated from Polihali Dam would be enough to meet Lesotho’s needs and the surplus sold to Eskom.
Eskom is South Africa’s national power utility. Currently Lesotho imports some of its power from Eskom.
When Eskom reviews its tariffs, the Lesotho Electricity Company is forced to adjust its charges by making locals pay more for power.
Molewa said South Africa is battling to meet its electricity needs but the electricity generated from ’Muela would close this gap.
“The signing of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project represents the cooperation that we built together as South Africa and Lesotho,” she said.
The signing ceremony came a year after South Africa president Jacob Zuma visited Lesotho to sign a memorandum of agreement for the construction of Polihali Dam.
The project will also see the construction of access roads to the new dam.
The design of the access roads to the construction site will begin next January while the actual construction of the roads will only kick off in February 2014, according to the official timetable.
Construction of the roads is expected to take 22 months.
It is expected that most of the roads will be ready for use by December 2015.
The total cost of engineering services has been budgeted at M1.04 billion inclusive of the design.
The government of South Africa is providing the bulk of funds for the construction of Polihali Dam, the officials said.
It will fund the building of the dam, tunnel, roads as well as cater for the social and environmental aspects.
Moleleki said local people in the construction project would be used as much as possible due to their “familiarity with the surroundings as well as the understanding of the language and culture of the people who will be affected by the dam”.
About 4 000 locals will be engaged for the project.
A hundred of them will be employed.
“Local people will be used as much as possible. If there are no relevant skills locally then the skilled labour will be brought in from South Africa,” Moleleki said.
He added that they would only look for overseas services as a last resort.