LOCAL communities in the Mokhotlong district have vowed to stop the construction of the proposed Polihali Dam which is scheduled to begin next year if their demands for compensation are not met.
The communities are demanding lifetime compensation or alternatively payment for a 99 year period from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (the LHDA which will implement the dam project) for the loss of their land.
However, the LHDA has said it will only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements.
The Polihali Dam is due to be constructed in terms of the bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP Phase II).
The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
Phase I of the LHWP, consisting of the Katse and Mohale dams, the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.
The bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation, power lines and telecommunication) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.
However, the local communities in Mokhotlong, who have grouped themselves into the Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) organisation, are threatening to disrupt the dam construction if their demands for compensation are not met.
SOLD is a civic human rights organisation committed to promoting social justice among communities affected by dams, mines and other large infrastructure developments.
The organisation was established in 2004 after some of the communities affected by the LHWP Phase I were not compensated and others only received compensation 20 years after the completion of the Katse and Mohale dams.
Addressing the media in Maseru on Tuesday, SOLD National Coordinator, Lenka Thamae, said the organisation was watching the Polihali developments with keen interest.
Mr Thamae urged the LHDA to speedily review the compensation rates to respond to ensure justice was served.
“We are aware that the affected communities have been complaining that compensation is too little and inadequate,” Mr Thamae said.
He further called on the LHDA to ensure that the relocated communities were provided with clean water and sanitation before the dam construction starts.
“The LHDA must refrain from a capitalist mentality of development where tarred roads end within the project designated areas, leaving the villages close to the project without any development.
“We stand with our people that employment at the Polihali Dam must in the first instance, be given to the locals as a right.
“We have used the courts before to force the authority to come to the table and listen to the community’s grievances. We have enough numbers to ensure that the project comes to a standstill,” Mr Thamae said.
He added that it was unfortunate that the communities were being unfairly treated by being forced to surrender their land.
SOLD Organiser, Khapane Mohlomi, who was relocated from Ha Mohale to Ha ‘Nelese during the Phase I project, said they have forced the LHDA’s hand before and they would not hesitate to repeat that to secure a fair deal for the local communities.
“We have blocked the roads before and threatened to throw stools into the Katse Dam and these tricks have worked. The LHDA came to the table and we bargained. Even today, we are not going to sit back and watch while communities are being mistreated,” Mr Mohlomi said.
However, the LHDA’s Polihali Operations Manager, Gerard Mokone, is on record as saying, “The issue of lifetime compensation is out, let us not pretend over this matter”.
“This (giving lifetime compensation) has never happened anywhere in the world and we don’t think it’s going to happen here. Sometimes we have to face the facts and we must ensure ordinary citizens understand this instead of pushing them to make such demands,” Mr Mokone said, adding that the 50-year compensation offer was final.
He also said it was important for the nation to know that the constitution and the Land Act of 2010 gave the government the right to repossess land from individuals for public purposes and compensate for the loss.
He said the laws did not specify the duration of the compensation but only stated that the compensation must be prompt and fair.
Part 10, section 56 of the Land Act of 2010 states that “In all cases in which the implementation of this act results in compulsory acquisition of the property, the person deprived of such property shall be entitled to compensation at market value”.
The affected individuals have the option of receiving their compensation money as a lump sum or over a period of time.