March 13, 2003

Communities complain about Lesotho Highlands Water Project

While it is seen as a project that has brought some remarkable economic prosperity to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and an engineering feat surpassed by none of its kind in the whole world, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) has left a trail of destitution, uncertainty and hopelessness amongst the communities affected by it in the Mohale area.

These communities from different villages in the Mohale area were resettled in the villages of Ha Ratau, Nazareth, Ha Seoe-hlana, Ha Mosuoe, Ha Makotoko, Ha Makhale and Ha Moji on the foothills of the Machache mountain range in the Maseru district to make way for the construction of the Mohale dam as part of the Phase 1B of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project which sells water to the neighbouring Republic of South Africa. Destitution, uncertainty and hopelessness amongst the resettled communities came to the fore during the week-long formal inquiry into the complaints against the LHWP by the affected communities conducted by the Ombudsman, Sekara Mafisa and his team that ended at the Molengoane Lodge on Friday, March 7, 2003.

The resettled communities from the seven villages all had the same complaints against the custodian of the LHWP. The complaints included delayed and inadequate compensation for communal assets, threshold payment, provision of schools, clinics and clean water. They sent a clear message to the Ombudsman and the LHDA that despite the economic upliftment promised them by the giant multi-billion dollar water scheme, their lives have gone from bad to worse.

A representative of the community resettled at Ha Ratau, Moeketsi Lakabane indicated that in 1995 when the Project informed them that they would be resettled at Ha Ratau it promised that they would receive training in vocational skills in order for them to engage in income-generating activities in their adopted villages. "However, nothing has happened as far as this is concerned. And the Project does not communicate with us about this," he told the inquiry. Lakabane disclosed that only five families out 34 families relocated at Ha Ratau have received compensation for their assets such as gardens since their arrival in the area in February 2002. "When we ask for compensation for the remaining families, the Project gives us unclear and ambiguous answers. Every time we ask for our compensation Project officials tell us that it will soon pay us. And again, those five families which were paid their compensation got inadequate and unsatisfactory amounts of money for their property taken over by the Project," he said. He also indicated that, when paid out, compensation arrived late and that inconvenienced many families as it hindered their plans and plunged them in unnecessary debts which could have been avoided if the LHDA paid out their compensation in time.

Lakabane pointed out that the houses built for them by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project were in a terrible state and were starting to crumble, and had leaking roofs and cracking walls. "Despite being too small, the houses have a lot of structural deficiencies and the equipment installed in the houses such as coal stoves are malfunctioning and have become a threat to our lives and we are in danger of contracting respiratory diseases. We have, on several occasions informed the LHDA authorities about these problems but they have done nothing," he said. He disclosed that before they were resettled at Ha Ratau in the Thaba-Bosiu area, the LHDA had promised them top-up money of M3,960.00 but they [LHDA] have now reneged saying that people whose belongings and property exceeding M3,960.00 would not receive any top-up money. "Another thing is that LHDA discriminates against some people when paying out compensation for fields and other property. The LHDA also promised us that they will release compensation for our communal assets. But, now the LHDA wants us to form a cooperative and pay M10.00 towards opening of a bank account into which our compensation for communal assets will paid," he said.

Lakabane said the installation of clean water taps that the LHDA promised to do in their homes have not been effected and they had to walk long distances to fetch water. 'Mathato Takatso of Ha Ratau told the inquiry that the yards around the houses built for them by LHDA were too small and did not allow for extension of buildings. "These yards are so small we cannot even build enclosures for our livestock," she added.

To the amazement of the Ombudsman and his officials, Molefi Sello disclosed that the Chief of Ha Ratau, Lerotholi Theko threatened resettled people with law suits if they continue demanding compensation and other services from the LHDA. "He refuses to write letters for us detailing our demands from the LHDA saying that we have no right to bother the LHDA with our demands," he said. The Chief of Ha Ratau, Lerotholi Theko refuted the allegations and said he was working in close collaboration with the resettled communities in his area to make sure that they get their compensation. "What the boy is saying is false. I am happy that these people from Mohale resettled at my place. They have brought several developments with them because the LHDA made sure that developments which were not there before at Ha Ratau were initiated. These include provision of clean drinking water," Chief Theko added.

Sello further told the inquiry that one LHDA official by the name of Maile told them that LHDA's promise that they would get development projects such as roads, schools and clinics was just a ploy and a tactic to make them move away from their original homes in the Mohale area to make way for the construction of the dam. "In essence our lives have become miserable since we left our original homes at Ha Mohale. We have become poorer because the LHDA has reneged on its promise of providing better lives for us," the young man added. Complaints leveled against the LHDA by communities affected by the Project and resettled at places like Ha Seoehlana, Ha Mosuoe, Ha Makotoko, Ha Makhale and Ha Moji were all very similar and centred around compensation for their various properties and the unfair treatment meted out to them by the officials of the LHDA. The LHDA will respond to the complaints and concerns of the affected communities on March 20 to 21, 2003. (Mopheme/The Survivor, Maseru)

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