The second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) was launched in Mokhotlong last week, officially kick-starting this M15billion part of the bi-national initiative.
The multiphase project is the result of a1986 treaty between Maseru and Pretoria, in which South Africa benefits water and electricity and Lesotho much-needed revenue and infrastructure, as well as electricity.
The first phase of the project, which included the construction of Katse and Mohale dams, Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels, was inaugurated in 2004, and hailed as a great success by both Lesotho and South Africa.
However, it is an open secret this was not an entirely true conclusion as some communities displaced by the project are bitterly complaining to this day, more than 10 years after the supposed successful completion of the mega enterprise.
The complaints by the affected villagers, which range from inadequate compensation to lack of information prior to displacement and relocation hundreds of kilometres away, continue to haunt the authorities although little can now be done to redress the situation.
During Thursday’s inauguration, both King Letsie III and South African president Jacob Zuma spoke glowingly of the water project, which they said helped cement the good relations that exist between the two neighbours.
Both leaders also expressed hope the LHWP would continue to benefit the two nations, while His Majesty also emphasised the need for adequate consultation with those to be directly affected by the gigantic project.
Yet while it is true the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA)—the implementing agency of the project— is currently engaging local communities regarding the project, it has since emerged the consultations are falling far short of the villagers’ expectations.
According to villagers who spoke to our journalists, as reported elsewhere in this issue, the LHDA is not doing enough to ensure those who would have to pave way for the construction of Polihali Dam, which is one of the several activities under Phase Two, are notified on time.
The residents have also accused the relevant authorities of not being open regarding the compensation to be paid those who are going to be directly affected by the project.
But perhaps what should be of even greater worry to the relevant stakeholders is the concerns have a familiar ring to them—almost similar to the complaints that continue to be raised by those displaced by Phase 1A and B of the project.
One would have hoped the authorities learnt from the Phase 1A and B mistakes, where one of the major complaints was lack of consultation regarding the relocation of villagers and their compensation.
But with the start of the dam construction still three years away, there is still hope the LHDA and other role-players would reassess their strategy of dealing with this issue.
The LHWP, as pointed out by Zuma during Thursday’s launch, is a win-win project for both Lesotho and South Africa but this benefit should not only be felt at administrative level but also among the grassroots.
That is why we believe unless there is thorough engagement with local residents and there is no feeling among the villagers that they have become victims of this project, what is otherwise a very good initiative will increasingly be viewed as a monster by people who are supposed to be its beneficiaries.