Lakabane Family Faces Danger of Being Swallowed Up By the Giant Mohale Dam

Thabo Thakalekoala - Mopheme/The Survivor (Maseru)
Thursday, November 14, 2002

As the impoundment of the Mohale reservoir of the giant Lesotho Highlands Development Project (LHWP) which started on Friday, November 1, 2002 is regarded as a milestone in the implementation of Phase 1B of the Project, The future remains uncertain and bleak for some local communities living around the reservoir.

According to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) the impoundment of the Mohale reservoir is being done at the start of the rainy season in order to capture as much as possible of the season s rainfall.

The future and fate of the people living upstream of the Mohale reservoir who use the Senqunyane, Bokong, Bokoaneng, Jorotane and Likalaneng rivers remains uncertain as they fear that the rising levels of water pose a serious danger to their lives and that of their livestock.

But one case which stands out prominently amongst all others is that of Makobeli Lakabane of Ha Seotsa in the Mohale area. Her heartbreaking case shook the emotions of many and brought some to tears during the recent visit of Parliamentarians to the communities affected by the LHWP organized by the Transformation Resource (TRC).

While the Project is seen as a saviour of Basotho against the evils of poverty and underdevelopment, it also has a bad side to it. In 1999 when the people of Ha Seotsa were resettled at places like Nazareth to make way for the construction of the Mohale dam, Makobeli Lakabane and her husband were left alone with their family of seven children.

The Ha Seotsa village where Makobeli Lakabane resides with her husband and seven children is situated on a hillside right in the middle of the Mohale dam at the confluence of Bokong and Jorotane rivers. She and her family face the imminent danger of being totally covered by the rising waters of the dam due to its recent impoundment.

Every day the Lakabane family wakes up to a new gradually rising level of the gigantic dam. Danger of being swallowed by the dam stares them every second and moment of their lives.

Her children do not attend school because all schools in the village were also resettled elsewhere when resettlement started in the late 1990s. Very soon she and her family would be cut off from the rest of the world and will live on the hillside in the middle of the dam until they die of starvation or due to drowning.

But what is the problem of the LHDA in resettling the Lakabane family? According to Makobeli Lakabane she and other members of the Ha Seotsa community were taken by the LHDA to visit resettlement sites in order for them to see the sites and see if they liked them.

As we were about to leave our village and be resettled at the new sites, the LHDA told me and my family that we were not entitled to resettlement because I did not have the rights to the land I and my family were occupying at Ha Seotsa. They indicated that my homestead and the land at Ha Seotsa were bequeathed to my brother by grandmother. My brother in question made documentary evidence that the land did not belong to him but to me. We also got letters of confirmation that the land at Ha Seotsa belonged to me from the family, District Secretary and the Principal Chief of Thaba–Bosiu and gave them to the LHDA, she added with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Despite the documentary evidence furnished to the LHDA, Lakabane pointed out that the Project insisted that they would not resettle her, but would rather give monetary compensation and remain at Ha Seotsa.

I told LHDA in no uncertain terms that I do not want monetary compensation, but need to be resettled elsewhere like other villagers from my place which is in the middle of the dam. But up until now the LHDA has ignored my pleas and the dam is slowly rising and we face the danger of being swallowed up, she said with a trembling and emotionally charged voice.

After serious thinking and pondering over her plight, Lakabane appealed to non–governmental organizations like TRC to intervene and assist in the matter. The TRC has promised me that they will engage the LHDA in negotiations to try and solve my problem as soon as possible, she said.

Some members of the Ha Mohale community strongly appealed to the LHDA and government of Lesotho to quickly remove the Lakabane family from Ha Seotsa and resettle them elsewhere as they were facing a serious danger of being totally covered by the rising waters of the Mohale dam.

We appeal for mercy from the LHDA to remove these people from that area. It is too dangerous for them to continue staying there considering the fast rising levels of water in the dam. Why can t they just give them a tent or temporary shelter where they can stay while they [LHDA] are still debating their problem? This is very inhumane and cruel to let an innocent family to suffer and die just because of some misunderstanding of procedures to follow, said one woman.

The representative of Parliamentarians, Lekhetho Rakuoane of the Popular Front For Democracy (PFD) said they have noted the problems of the community at Ha Mohale and would do their best to make sure that they were attended to as soon as possible. We will fight for the establishment of a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee dealing with matters and grievances related to the Lesotho Highlands Development Project in all its aspects.

We will see to it that justice is done and will meet government as soon as we return to Maseru to discuss everything that you have told us, he concluded.

Mopheme–The Survivor can only say: While the Parliamentarians and the Transformation Resource Centre are planning to find ways and means of addressing problems of the communities affected by the LHWP, the Lakabane family is in terrible danger of being swallowed up by a dam supposedly meant to ensure improved standard of living and sustainable development of that family and others. But now the dam has become her enemy and threat. Is money more important than human life?