Villagers expected to be affected by the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong have expressed concern at the lack of information regarding those to be relocated to different parts of the mountainous district.
Speaking on the sidelines of the official launch of Phase Two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) in Tlokoeng on Thursday, the villagers said the relevant authorities have not been clear on which particular households are to be relocated, leaving “everyone” in suspense and unable to make long-term plans.
Polihali Dam, whose construction is set to begin in 2017, is part of the LHWP Phase II, whose other components include the construction of feeder-roads and implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures, as well as the establishment of a hydroelectric-generation plant in Kobong in Leribe district.
The multi-phase project was established through a treaty signed by Lesotho and South Africa in 1986, with Phase I, which included the construction of Katse and Mohale dams, being completed in 2004. The project would see South Africa being supplied with water and hydropower, while Lesotho benefits from infrastructure such as roads, which is being necessitated by the project, as well as royalties and electricity.
The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) is the implementing agency of the project, and the villagers say they would have been happier had they been told about who exactly is going to be displaced by the project and where they would be relocated to, as well as the exact compensation to be paid to those to be affected.
The villagers said being told “early” about the displacement would help them adequately prepare and become accustomed to the idea of being moved to a new area.
However, King Letsie III, on Thursday allayed the villagers’ fears in his keynote address to launch the initiative.
His Majesty told the crowd, which included Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and South African President Jacob Zuma, that he had been informed that consultations with communities on how the compensation policy would be drafted, had already taken place.
The King further said he had also been informed the consultations had been open and all stakeholders cooperative during the entire process.
“I’ve been told that the inputs of the people will be included in the compensation policy that is being drafted and when it is completed, the people will be given a chance to confirm whether their views were included,” King Letsie III said.
Molootsi Foloko from Tlokoeng village, who is also a councillor in the Mphokojoane Community Council, confirmed villagers to be affected by the project are being engaged by the LHDA.
However, Foloko said what was disturbing was the people who are to be directly affected by the project are not being informed that they are going to be relocated.
“We have been told by the officers that it is not yet time to inform those who are to be relocated because they don’t want people to make rushed decisions,” Foloko said.
“But we believe the people have the right to know now so they can prepare themselves mentally about the relocation.”
Another villager, ‘Mathato Sethinyane from Ha Ntsesanyane Mapholaneng said the decision not to reveal who would be affected by the project had become a concern about residents.
“We are not being told directly that we are going to be relocated. All we are being told is that we will be affected.
“We are not happy that no-one is giving us a straightforward answer about the whole relocation,” Sethinyane said.
However, LHDA chief executive officer, Refiloe Tlali last week told the Sunday Express’ sister paper, the Lesotho Times, that extensive community consultations had already been conducted regarding the project.
“Most of the community consultations were centred on disseminating information to the communities that are going to be affected by the construction of Polihali Dam. We wanted the communities to understand what this project is all about, how it’s going to be implemented and what the expected benefits of the project are, among other concerns.
“We were also keen to make clear, issues around the envisaged compensation and resettlement processes while making this initiative a platform that brought various stakeholders and the sharing of ideas about the project,” Tlali said.
Tlali also said about 17 villages are to be affected by the dam project.
“Eleven villages would be relocated and an estimated 534 households (2 547 people) will be affected by the project’s implementation,” she said.