MASERU — Villagers to be affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II’s Polihali dam construction are at odds with the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) over compensation.
According to Bolae Matalasi, a villager from Sekoka Village, located near the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu rivers in the Polihali region, all is not well between Mokhotlong villagers and the LHDA.
The M14 billion Polihali Dam mega project deal signed in August 2011 is expected to affect Mokhotlong Polihali community’s assets such as houses, fields, grazing land, woodlands and areas used to grow thatching grass and plants and herbs.
“We were told that the committees we had set up since 2009 after being advised by a consultant of the LHDA would not be used.
“These committees represent 39 villages that are going to be affected by the water project.
“These are committees we formed to represent our villages even before we came into contact with the TRC (Transformation Resource Centre),” Matalasi said.
The construction of the Polihali Dam and Kobong Power Station is a bilateral project to supply South Africa’s Gauteng Province with water while generating electricity for Lesotho.
He said the TRC had capacitated the committees and they were aware of the LHWP’s questionable history with regard to resettling displaced families and how the LHDA compensated such affected families in the past.
“We feel that the LHDA wants to come up with new committees so as to undermine our strength in negotiating and they want to trick us into losing our land and homes to be stranded in urban areas for a song,” Matalasi said.
Chief Abia Leuta from the Likhameng village of Malubelube area said the major interest is to have villagers build proper houses.
Leuta confirmed squabbles exist over committees now dubbed to be TRC committees by LHDA officers.
Leuta said since the villagers have been in contact with the TRC team, they have been enlightened about communities’ resettlement and they are ready to negotiate with LHDA.
He insists the committees were formed by the villagers not the TRC and they would continue to exist and they had already taken tours of villages in Maseru where Katse and Mohale villagers were relocated.
“We realised we cannot allow our people to suffer like those people, especially because we are used to our lives here. We have already made recommendations that we be relocated to the Malubalube area and other places nearby not urban areas,” he said.
Leuta insists he has, together with other villagers, witnessed miseries of the Ha Matala villagers and Ha Makotoko in Thaba-Bosiu who were resettled from Katse and Mohale.
A villager from Thabang village, Khang Tšita, said TRC brought the Mokhotlong communities good news and such committees empowered by the TRC should continue to negotiate on behalf of the people.
Tšita said since work started in the Polihali area, the LHDA has refused to show villagers maps which delineate the villages that will be affected when the dam construction begins.
According to Moalosi Thabane, a facilitator of Sesotho Media and Development sensitising villagers in the Polihali on resettlement issues using film made during Katse and Mohale projects, there are strong differences brewing in Polihali.
“We went there to use experiences and interviews filmed during the Mohale dam resettlements so that those people in Mokhotlong would have a better experience of what happened in the past.
“So that those people negotiate their resettlement compensations in a more informed manner than those people affected by Phase 1 of the project,” said Thabane.
Thabane said what has come to his organisation’s attention is that the LHDA insists on working with village committees it has set up as opposed to those already existing to trick villagers into accepting very unfavorable resettlement deals.
TRC officer working with the Mokhotlong Polihali, Moeketsi Chefa, told the Sunday Express that LHDA refuses to work with committees as they were elected in its absence.
“They have labelled the committees as ours (TRC’s) because they found them already existing.
“What we did was only to give the village committees tours of places where people were relocated here in Maseru and those villagers shared their experiences,” said Chefa.
Chefa insists the TRC has never had any problems in the Polihali area and he was baffled to hear that the LHDA has dubbed villagers committees TRC committees.