Chief Moseli Ntsiki of Ntsiking village in Mokhotlong is clearly a worried man.
The 83-year-old chief looks towards Ntsiking Mountain—the source of both the village’s water and his anxiety—and shakes his head as he narrates how Mokhotlong Urban Council is allegedly about to turn two wetlands atop the mountain into a dumpsite.
The swamps are the village’s only source of water and are also surrounded by perennially rich pasture which ensures livestock’s survival no-matter the weather conditions.
Lesotho was under scorching heat and severe water shortage this summer-cropping season due to the El Niño weather phenomenon but Ntsiking villagers were still accessing clean water and their livestock had enough pasture, thanks to the Ntsiking Mountain wetlands.
However, the villagers’ paradise could soon be turned into a rubbish dump by Mokhotlong Urban Council and Chief Ntsiki does not know how his subjects are going to survive should this happen. Chief Ntsiki says he does not know when Council would go ahead with the plan but told the Sunday Express he had already been contacted about the plan.
“Mokhotlong Urban Council officials came to us asking for our blessing to turn the mountain-top into a dumping site for the district but we have refused for obvious reasons,” Chief Ntsiki said on Wednesday during a visit to his village.
“The area they are talking about has two main wetlands which supply us with water throughout the year. It further has grazing which the four sub-villages under my leadership depend on so destroying such a resource would be a disaster to us all.”
Chief Ntsiki says he fears for his people should the council go ahead with its plans.
“I am 83 years old now and worrying about the dangers that come with this development, if ever we can call it that.
“Our appeal not to turn this mountain into a health hazard have fallen on deaf ears and we don’t know who else to approach to stop what this council intends to do to our very valuable resource and community.
“The bottom line is dumping waste on the mountain is going to destroy the environment and eventually our agriculture because the soil would no longer be fertile as we understand some of the waste is going to be chemicals that are going to devastate this neighbourhood,” Chief Ntsiki added.
“It pains my heart knowing that very soon we will have chemicals running through our village and there is nothing we can do about it.”
A worried villager, Reentseng Ntsiki, said the dumpsite would be easily reached by children, posing yet another danger to the community.
“Our children easily move up and down the mountain so they will definitely be frequenting the dumpsite and picking up whatever they believe to be toys; that is the nature of children and no-matter your warnings, they would continue doing it. This simply means their health will be compromised,” Mr Ntsiki said.
“My understanding is that every waste from the district—from the rubbish coming from the hospital to Polihali project chemicals—will be dumped here. I also fear that our agriculture will be affected because the chemicals will pollute the environment and penetrate fields.”
Another villager, ‘Mamotokoa Motokoa, also expressed concern at the ramifications the decision to bring the dumpsite to their doorstep would have on the community.
“Women are the cornerstones of their homes and with household chores entirely on their shoulders, this will affect them more than any other member of the community,” Ms Motokoa told the Sunday Express.
“It will be difficult for women to do their household chores without water.
“Again, the children will start picking rubbish from the dumpsite and eat it if it is food and that will be a danger to their health.
“In addition, our lives entirely depend on agriculture, and turning this mountain into a dumping site would deprive us of the only stable source of income we have.
“Where are we expected to take our livestock for water when the only reliable source is going to be taken away from us? The officials have blatantly told us we are not going to be compensated at all, not even with an alternative water-source like a borehole.”
Contacted for comment, Mokhotlong Urban Council chairperson, Chief Tsepo Seeiso said he could only talk about the issue tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Seinoli Legal Centre acting director, Mothusi Seqhee, said the organization would help the villagers fight Mokhotlong Urban Council’s quest to turn the mountain into a dumpsite. The Centre is a non-governmental organisation providing independent, long-term community legal empowerment. It is currently focusing on Basotho who have been affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The project is a multiphase initiative established through a treaty signed by the Lesotho and South African governments in 1986. South Africa seeks to augment its water-supply through the project, while Lesotho expects to benefit from infrastructure such as roads, as well as royalties and electricity, from the initiative.
Phase One of the project, consisting of the construction of Katse and Mohale dams, Muela hydropower-station and associated tunnels, was inaugurated in 2004.
The LHWP Phase Two, on the other hand, includes the construction of Polihali dam in Mokhotlong, extension of the Muela hydropower station, the building of a 38.2 kilometre water-transfer tunnel connecting Polihali with Muela, as well as roads to the project sites, camps, power transmission lines and administration centres.
The construction of the dam, which is the major component of the project, is expected to begin in 2017 and end in 2023.
“We are definitely going to help the affected community because turning that mountain into a dumping site will affect Ntsiking water resources, thus depriving villagers their basic needs,” Mr Seqhee said.
Mr Seqhee said the Centre would soon send their legal experts to Mokhotlong to meet with the affected villagers.
“After they have given us the mandate to represent them in court, we will issue a letter of demand to the Mokhotlong Urban Council. We will further meet with relevant stakeholders as well as government officials to discuss the issue.”