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Thabane, Zuma make up over hydropower component

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says Lesotho has patched up its differences with South Africa after President Jacob Zuma agreed to restore the hydropower component of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
Thabane told a press conference on Friday that Zuma had no problem with the inclusion of the hydropower component in the project, which was excluded in the agreement signed between the two countries in 2011.
The 2011 agreement was signed between the then government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and South Africa.
Under the previous arrangement the hydropower station which was going to be built in Leribe’s Kobong area was a key component of the M7 billion project which included the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong.
The power station was going to be constructed subject to agreement on the outcome of a feasibility study on its technical and economic viability.
Thabane met Zuma in Pretoria on his way from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Algeria on Monday where they agreed to include the hydropower project in the LHWP Phase Two agreement.
“The supply of water to South Africa and the generation of electricity will now be done simultaneously,” Thabane said.
“This is included in the Memorandum of Understanding,” he said.
“Energy ministers of these two countries have been instructed to work on these things before the end of June,” he said, adding that Eskom and the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will work together on the project.
Thabane said he told Zuma that a non-inclusion of the hydropower component would violate the 1986 LHWP Treaty which states that the purpose of the water project is to enhance the delivery of water to South Africa as well as generating hydropower in Lesotho.
Thabane said Zuma immediately considered his argument.
“We did not even spend five minutes discussing that, he understood it instantly,” Thabane said.
“We saw that we were virtually fighting over nothing,” he said.
He however said the agreement has shifted from the actual construction of the hydropower station in Kobong to the capacitating of the ’Muela Hydropower Station in Butha-Buthe.
The premier said the new plan is to tunnel water from Polihali Dam to ’Muela for the purpose of generating power and then re-tunnel it to Katse Dam where it will eventually go to South Africa.
Building a hydropower station in Kobong would require water to be pumped up from Katse Dam and to generate electricity as it falls back to the dam by gravity.
Water pumping would be a costly exercise which is probably the reason why Eskom was reluctant to be involved.
Speaking at the same occasion, Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo said other areas that had been considered for the dam construction included Taung in Mohale’s Hoek, Mashai and Nko ea Khomo but it was found that it would be expensive to bring water to Katse Dam.
“It has been found that it is only in Polihali where we will rely on gravity to take water to Katse Dam,” Molapo said.
“The decision to build this dam in Polihali is purely on engineering merits,” he said.
There have been arguments in engineering circles that Polihali is not the right place to build the dam.
Zuma said they had also agreed to remove the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) from the control of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, which oversees policy with equal representation from the two countries.
The 1986 Treaty states that the water project as a whole belongs to Lesotho with South Africa being a mere customer.
Under this treaty South Africa’s interests in the project are overseen by its representatives in the Water Commission.
Lesotho is in full control of the LHDA, which is the executive arm of the project.
But under the agreement entered into between Lesotho’s erstwhile government and South Africa, this Commission is given powers to run the LHDA.
Thabane said the coalition government felt the arrangement was unfair to Lesotho.
“That thing really belittled Lesotho,” he said.
Zuma, Thabane said, accepted Lesotho’s stance without reservations and that part of the agreement has been reversed.

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