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Angry villagers threaten LHWP

 Pascalinah Kabi

THE multi-billion maloti Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II is under threat from angry Mokhotlong villagers who recently closed down roads and disrupted construction works to protest the failure to adequately compensate them for the loss of their livelihood.

The disgruntled villagers who have been up in arms with the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) since April this year, have threatened another  round of disruptive protests beginning on Tuesday if their demands are still not met. The LHDA is the implementing and management authority of the LHWP on behalf of Lesotho, while in South Africa, the project is governed by the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority.

The villagers are livid with the contractors for allegedly hiring outsiders for non-skilled jobs.

More importantly the villagers are demanding lifetime compensation or alternatively payment for a 99 year period from the LHDA for the loss of their land.

However, the LHDA has said it will only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements.

The Polihali Dam is due to be constructed in terms of the bi-national 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, power lines and telecommunication) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.

However, the local communities in Mokhotlong are threatening to disrupt the dam construction if their demands for compensation are not met.

Those who have been paid are complaining that they have been paid very little amounts as low as M257, 35. The Sunday Express has seen a M257, 35 cheque issued to one of the beneficiaries on 5 May 2019.

On Monday the LHDA had to call in the Mokhotlong police to disperse angry villagers and allow construction works to resume after the villagers had disrupted work.

One of the villagers, Teboho Lethakha, recently told this publication that they would not rest until the LHDA addressed their grievances.

“The LHDA has not been honest with us as it keeps making promises that it cannot keep,” Mr Lethakha said.

“We know for sure that they have sneaked in some non-Mokhotlong residents as unskilled labourers. We have raised this issue with the LHDA and they keep making promises instead of ensuring those outsiders are fired to make way for the Mokhotlong residents.

“Our repeated efforts to peacefully engage the authority on the matter have not yielded any positive results. This is the fifth time that we have blocked the road and we will continue to do so until the LHDA, parliament and government address our concerns.

“We also want the authority to immediately pay compensation. They had promised that compensation would be paid before construction works begin but up to this day some people haven’t been paid a single cent.”

The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) has also thrown its weight behind the villagers, with the centre’s Polihali Community Liaison Officer Fako Fako accusing the authority of reneging on its promise of reserving unskilled jobs for the locals.

“The authority (LHDA) and the community agreed that unskilled jobs would be reserved for Mokhotlong residents but the authority has reneged on that agreement. There is high unemployment rate in the country and everyone is eyeing a job but it was agreed that temporary jobs would be reserved for locals. That has not happened.

“What makes it worse is that there are South African nationals who don’t have work permits who have been sneaked in to work as temporary labourers and they skip the country whenever there is an inspection,” Mr Fako said.

He also said the communities were complaining that the authority was not processing their compensation payments on time and that in some cases where compensation was paid, the beneficiaries received as a little as M100.

He said a one way trip from Masakong to Mapholaneng to cash the cheques cost M50 and so the entire M100 was spent on transport.

He said the contractors had failed to provide communal toilets after taking up the open spaces the communities used before.

“We have also witnessed a situation where the contractors have diverted communal water sources to their tanks, communities are left stranded without water,” Mr Fako said.

On his part, LHDA Acting Chief Executive Officer Tente Tente said there was an ongoing process to compensate villagers.

“About 131 households were affected by the Polihali North East Access Road (PNEAR) which is the road between Mapholaneng and Polihali Dam site and over 120 households have already been compensated. These households have either been fully or partly compensated depending on the type of assets affected and compensation options chosen by the households. The assets which have not yet been compensated are mainly business plots due to the outstanding submission of the forms as proof of ownership and confirmation of land use.

“There were delays (in paying compensation) but we have since overcome the challenges we had. We are currently paying households on a weekly basis with more than 105 payments made in the past two weeks.

“It must be noted that the LHDA consulted with the individual households to access their land or property while the payment process was ongoing. It was never a unilateral decision.

“The payment of compensation to the affected households is an ongoing process because even the land acquisition or registration is not complete. In certain instances, the properties that are not currently affected by the footprint of the construction works have had to be acquired because they are no longer accessible to their landowners. It is therefore, not possible to give the exact timeline. However, the LHDA is still committed to ensuring that all affected people receive their compensation timely.”

On the allegations that some communities were paid as little as M257, 35, Mr Tente said compensation amounts depended on various factors including the type of assets.

“During the demarcation of the reservoir, impacts (on the villagers) were very small and these consequently attracted little compensation. On realising that compensation for these small impacts, such as a hole drilled during geotechnical investigations, will result in small amounts of compensation, and appreciating the inconvenience that affected households will have to go through in registering these small impacts, the project authorities approved a once-off payment. This is termed an inconvenience allowance and it is given to every household affected by the project.”

“No one will get compensation that is less than M1000. However, the cheque for the inconvenience payment will always come separately from the compensation entitlement. Furthermore, it should be noted that all affected households will benefit under the Livelihoods Restoration Programme aimed at improving the livelihoods of affected households,” Mr Tente said.

 

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