LHDA Has Reneged On Its Promises And Forgotten About Us - Say Katse Communities

Thabo Thakalekoala, Mopheme/The Survivor (Maseru)
Wednesday, November 20, 2002

As the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) continues to compensate communities affected by the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) in the Butha–Buthe district, notably in the ‘Muela and Khukhune areas, some communities similarly affected by the Project in the Thaba–Tseka and Maseru districts say the multi–billion dollar water scheme has forgotten about them.

In August 2002, the LHDA paid out compensation of over M400, 000 to the ‘Muela community for their communal assets that were affected by the Project. The money was paid out to about 300 villages whose communal assets such as grazelands, woodlands and others were taken over or negatively impacted upon by the Project.

In November 2002, the LHDA handed over compensation of over M500, 000 to the Boinyatso, Ha Molapo and Setlakalleng communities for their communal assets affected by the Project.

The compensation of the Boinyatso, Ha Molapo and Setlakalleng communities coincided with the visit of members of Lesotho’s Parliament to the areas affected by the LHWP which took place on November 7 to 8, 2002. The Transformation Resource Centre, a non–governmental organization that, amongst others, monitors the social and environmental aspects of the Project, organized the visit. The trip was aimed at acquainting MPs and Senators with developments relating to social and environmental aspects of the giant Project.

Communities living around the Katse reservoir, the flagship of the Project and the first dam to be constructed and completed by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project told the visiting Parliamentarians that they were disgruntled and disappointed with the way the Project treated them.

A representative of the Bokong community adjacent to the Katse dam, George Molise indicated that: "The Project has made several promises to us as far as our compensation for our communal and private assets were concerned. They used to supply us with fodder to replace our grazelands destroyed by the construction works of the Project. After some time they stopped the supply of fodder saying that they would give us money. But that money has not come until now. They also required us to open a bank account into which our compensation money would be deposited. But, up until now the money has not arrived and there is no explanation for this from the LHDA," he said.

Molise further indicated that the Project promised to avail facilities such as clean drinking water through a network of taps, toilets and building and repairing of houses for resettled people. "But this has not happened, For instance houses that were built by the Project for the affected communities are in a bad state of disrepair.

Construction of houses for the People of Mapeleng village who were resettled by the Project have not been completed. Some people still do not have houses as I talk to you now," the visibly disturbed Molise added.

The representative of the Bokong community pointed out that communication between various villages surrounding the Katse dam was very difficult and sometimes impossible, as they were no facilities or infrastructure.

"Some time ago they [LHDA] gave us small boats to use when crossing the Katse dam. But those boats are inadequate and insufficient. How can they expect us to cross such a big dam like Katse using a man–powered small boat. We need big automated boats that are reliable and efficient," he said.

Another Bokong villager, Mohapi Makoetlane angrily indicated that: "We the people of Bokong do not want this dam [Katse]. This dam has brought no socio–economic developments to this area as promised. It has only given us a tarred road from Pitseng to here. During the construction of the Katse dam contractors employed only 11 people from Bokong. Since the advent of the Katse dam our standards of living have drastically declined from where they used to be. The construction of the dam has made us even poorer because it has taken our land and other precious assets which ensured our stable livelihoods," he added.

He pointed out that congestion of manpower during and after the construction of Katse dam in the area brought diseases such as HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.

"13 young girls had babies after having sexual intercourse with some of the men working for the Project and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS– related diseases which was unknown before this people arrived is too high right now in our area," he said amidst applause from the many villagers who had gathered outside the Bokong community hall.

Makoetlane further appealed to government to urge LHDA to find ways and means of recovering the bodies of two young school children who drowned in the Katse when the boat in which they were travelling capsized in September. "The bodies of children are still in the dam. We have tried to talk to LHDA about ways and means of recovering the bodies but they turned a deaf ear to us. Just think of the pain the parents and relatives of those children are going through when they know that the bodies of their children are still in the dam," he added.

Meanwhile, Thaba–Tseka District Secretary, Mataela Mphafi told Mopheme that his office was still trying to identify people who could assist in the recovery of the bodies of the drowned children.

"We are still engaged in negotiations with the compensation department of the LHDA about this. But, the onus lies on them to make sure the bodies of those children are retrieved," he added.

Bokong community appealed to MPs to put a motion before the National Assembly calling for the Compensation Policy of the Lesotho Highlands Development Project to be made into law or at least gazetted to oblige the LHDA to comply with its provisions. "As it stands now, the Compensation Policy of the LHWP is not legally binding hence they do whatever they like about us," one of them said.

Leader of the Lesotho Workers'Party (LWP), Macaefa Billy said the plight of the communities affected by the Project was serious and heartbreaking and needed urgent attention of Parliament.

"Government, through the LHDA should be brought before the courts of law to answer all these grievances. All non–governmental organizations under the umbrella of the Lesotho Council of Non–governmental Organizations (LCN) should be mobilized for funds for such a court case and solidarity," he added.

The Deputy Leader of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), Sekoala Toloane said it was unfortunate that Members of Parliament for the areas affected were not present to hear affected people’s grievances about the Project. "These are not political party issues. But, they are national issues, which need the concerted effort of all including Parliament and government. We must lobby and fight for the establishment of a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee dealing with issues related to the affected communities and the Project. This is very important and urgent. It is the primary duty of government to ensure welfare and security of the people against projects that impact negatively on them," the veteran politician said.

The peaceful but emotionally charged Katse meeting of affected communities, Transformation Resources Centre (TRC) and the Parliamentarians was punctuated by a strong presence of police attached to the activities of the Project.

Prior to the departure of the Parliamentarians to the areas affected by the Project, the Coordinator of the TRC, Motaeoa Senyane received a letter from the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources under which the LHWP falls. The letter stated that, we were also informed by LHDA that they are not aware of the visit... I am sorry to inform you that no arrangements have been made for the honourable members of Parliament’s visit. Our understanding is that a visit of the highest institution in the land should be well arranged for so that they could be well briefed by trained people and also agreement with the contractors who are still working in the project’s sites made so as to avoid embarrassments of not allowing honourable members access to some areas. As far as we are aware all these arrangements are not made.

Principal Secretary B. Leleleka’s letter stated that arrangements for a visit by Parliamentarians were at an advanced stage and should have taken place in March/April 2002 except that: "The honourable Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Monyane Moleleki MP decided that due to impending general elections in the following month i.e. May 2002, it would be better to invite the members of Parliament who would take their duties after those elections."

However, TRC’s Community Worker, Mothusi Seqhee said they decided to go ahead with the trip as preparations were advanced and invitations to Parliamentarians to take part were channelled through the Speaker of the National Assembly who duly approved of the trip and passed on invitations to all parties in Parliament.