Villagers jubilant over compensation judgement
A Commercial Court judgement delivered last week was met with joy by residents of the newly-established Thaba-Tseka commune in the Ha Tsolo area of Maseru.
The residents were moved from Ha Lejone to pave way for the construction of Mohale dam, which was Phase IB of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) — a multiphase initiative established by a 1986 treaty between the Lesotho and South African governments.
In his ruling, Justice Lebohang Molete dismissed an application by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), which is the implementing agency of the LHWP, to have 88 claimants individually show cause why they should be compensated for their properties affected by the dam, whose construction was completed in 2002.
Thirteen of the claimants live in the Thaba-Tseka commune, named after the residents’ original district before their relocation by the LHDA.
However, the applicants were just but a fraction of the estimated 7 500 residents affected by the M157 billion dam through loss or damage of arable and grazing land.
‘Makolehile Lakabane, one of the Thaba-Tseka commune residents, could not hide her excitement, saying she was happy the affected villagers could now receive their compensation.
“They (LHDA) promised to give us our compensation monies for our natural resources, as well as land lost during construction of the Mohale Dam but that has failed to happen as expected,” Lakabane said.
“At least, we can now look forward to a better life as a result of the case’s outcome.”
‘Matšolo Mosoeu, another Thaba-Tseka resident, was equally jubilant over the outcome of the case, noting she hoped “now the LHDA will make good on all its promises made to us about our land and resources”.
She continued: “We were relocated to town, whereby we have been forced into a costly lifestyle which we have no money to sustain, so with the judgement, I hope we would soon be accessing our monies so that we can sustain this expensive life.
“We are so happy and thank everyone who has made this dream finally come true.”
Meanwhile, after villagers within a two to five-kilometre radius of the dam were provided with new homes, they were also supposed to receive monetary compensation for the next 50 years.
But some of the people who were already receiving the compensation claimed the money had been stopped, and subsequently launched a case in the High Court against the LHDA about two years ago through the help of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) — a local human rights organisation.
This was after the LHDA had indicated that it had paid over M20 million into a special account, which the villagers could, however, not access due to complications regarding competing claims by different people and groups, including the Ministry of Local Government.
It was in light of the standoff that the LHDA had sought the court’s decision regarding the validity of the competing claims.
According to Justice Molete, what the court was to decide was whether claims by the three parties, namely cooperatives, some individuals and the Ministry of Local Government, were conflicting or competing.
However, in the court’s findings, according to regulations which govern the ministry, it was not specified whether there was a section which gave it powers to intervene or receive funds on behalf of the communities or cooperatives.
It was merely stated, Molete noted in the judgement, that there had been a public outcry for the ministry to intervene and remedy the situation of unequal distribution of money to the affected people by the cooperatives.
Apparently, it had not been clearly outlined what method was being followed in allocating compensation monies to some people who were not members of some cooperatives that were to receive money on behalf of the communities.
“At best, the ministry relies on its obligation to provide infrastructure, build roads and bridges and generally improve the economic well-being of communities.
In my view, this does not necessarily extend to receiving compensation money on behalf of those communities.
The ministry has a government budget for this. It follows therefore that the ministry does not have a prima facie valid enforceable claim to the compensation.
“It must be pointed out that the LHDA itself proposed the formation of the cooperatives to the communities. It created them and is responsible for their existence. I assume that there would be certain provisions that are designed to enable the authority (LHDA) to terminate the arrangement.
“In the circumstances and for the reasons set out in this judgement, the order I make is as follows: the interpleader is set aside as an improper step or proceeding.
The costs are awarded to those parties who filed their objection to the improper step even if they did not file the application to set it aside,” Molete said in the judgement.
Advocates Kananelo Mosito KC and Lisa Olsen appeared for the respondents while HHT Woker represented the LHDA in the case.
According to Lineo Tsikoane, a representative of the Protimos Foundation — a funding organisation for the Seinoli project — the judgement meant they could now proceed with a case before the High Court about the eligibility of a cooperative named Khabang Lejone, to receive compensation from the LHDA.
Seinoli is a TRC project fighting for the rights of communities affected by the LHDA project throughout the country.
According to Tsikoane, the judgement also made it easy to continue litigation for other cooperatives as well as individuals impacted by the dams under the LHDA project. In addition to Mohale, Phase One of the LHWP also saw Katse dam being constructed and completed in 1998.
“This judgement is actually a victory for us as Seinoli since it means we can continue with our case before the High Court for the Khabang Lejone cooperative and others affected by the LHDA,” Tsikoane said.
Lerato Rabatho of Seinoli promised the villagers that their woes about cooperatives and ignorance in their management would soon be a thing of the past since the organisation had “big plans” for them.
“We are going to sensitise people who were affected by the project, on the relevant documentation to have ready as they fight their battles moving forward,” Rabatho said, adding that they would ensure that every resident received what was due to them.