By staff reporter
They are angry.
They foresee a bleak future and feel hopeless as time ticks towards an implementation of the multi-billion historic water project in the rural district of Mokhotlong.
These are the residents of a number of villages in this remote district.
Their anger stems from the on-going implementation of the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II.
In the main, the project is to involve the construction of the Polihali Dam, forming the second phase of the multi-billion water scheme between Lesotho and the neighbouring South Africa.
But, the affected communities near the dam project are complaining bitterly about it.
They believe that it is failing to improve their lives.
This, they expressed during a visit to project areas by the Seinoli Legal Centre and the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC).
The two organisations are working together to ensure that the communities affected by the water scheme are protected against the negative impacts of the dam construction and related works.
They also fight for the protection of the rights of the communities while bidding to ensure their improved standards of living as the project is being implemented.
Those that are very sceptical about the project include communities living in the villages of Ha-Ramonakalali, Ha-Phohla, Likhameng and Mosakong.
The peopleâ€™s fury is brought by what others deem as forced removals, lack of sufficient compensation arising from taking off their communal property, fields and rangelands.
They claim that the project authorities have made empty promises living them in disappointment.
â€œThe government does not care about us. They (project authorities) have reneged from their promises for better livelihoods. We have been ordered to stop developing our residential areas. We were promised compensation for our property but now they only give us so little in compensation,â€ complained â€˜Mapuseletso Koatsa, a resident of Ha Phohla.
She says some of them had already started construction of their houses but were ordered to stop such works, adding compensation for incomplete housing structures had also been promised.
â€œBut they have reneged from these promises,â€ she claims.
Another resident â€˜Manthibeli Letsoepa said they were to be relocated to an unknown place. She suggested that the villagers should choose their own places of relocation. She accused the LHWP for determining â€œour own future.â€
â€œThey just want to relocate us to the place of their choice. We donâ€™t know where we will be resettled,â€ added â€˜Malibuseng Letsoepa, urging the project to allow them to choose their next dwellings.
At the time of the visit to the area, the villagers did not have a clue as to which place they would be resettled in, after removal from their long time residences.
In addition, they say the highlands water scheme had promised a 50-year compensation period against their demand for a life time compensation.
â€œWeâ€™re not sure of how long we will be compensated; whether it will be for 50 years or 90 years, we donâ€™t know,â€ says a distraught â€˜Makhotsang Letsoepa.
The Ha-Phohla villagers are all to be relocated to a yet unknown area.
â€œIt was said that if we agree to relocate, weâ€™ll be given substantial amounts of compensation in addition to building houses for us. But weâ€™re not sure if this will happen because the project officers make empty promises,â€ claims â€˜Mapuleng Lehele while advising they be allowed to determine own compensation.
According to Hlonepho Letsoepa, their range lands are to be under water leaving their livestock in a drastically reduced grazing land.
â€œOur rangelands will be taken from us by the water scheme. Our animals will have no rivers to drink from and we cannot live without our livestock. The well from which we draw potable water will be swallowed by the dam,â€ he strongly warns as he addresses a public gathering organised by the two civil society organisations.
He also decries that their fields will also be swallowed by the dam putting their source of livelihood in jeopardy.
â€œWe face 50 years of hardships and agony. How are we going to live at a place of relocation? Had it not been due to the dam building, we would not be worried. We want a life time compensation. Water is life. Although this is development, it is hurting us. It is giving us headache in our only country,â€ lamented Letsoepa.
The project is also accused of failing to protect the rights of the communities on land and property.
â€œThe Project has reneged from safeguarding our rights on communal land. None of the promises seem to be breaking even. Some of our trees for fuel were uprooted and we have not benefitted. The road infrastructure to our village is poor. There is no clean water, no electricity and no jobs,â€ complains Molemohi Tikiso of Likhameng while appealing for protection of their livelihoods.
He strongly backed an idea to take legal action against the project to be instituted by Seinoli Legal Centre, The communities signed up an agreement allowing for such action to be taken by the centre.
â€œWe have been singing the same old song for almost eight years. A promise is a comfort to a fool. Please come to our rescue as we cry for help,â€ said another villager from Likhameng.
Fako Faku, the TRC Polihali Community Liason Officer said at one of the gatherings that they have spoken for a long time but their â€œword is falling on deaf ears.â€ He suggested the organisations, adhering to the plight of the communities, should face the LHWP head-on.
He suggested that a time-line to reverse the situation by meeting the demands of the communities be set.
Seinoli Legal Centreâ€™s Officer Mothusi Seqhee warned the communities to fight for their rights on land and property. He advised the residents to seek sufficient compensation that would improve their standard of living as the project is set to cause some losses to them.
â€œStand for your rights and protect them. Those depriving you of your rights are not doing well. Seinoli is there to empower communities legally. The rights of the underprivileged must be protected in order for justice to prevail,â€ he firmly articulated.
Mothusi also advised for formation of strong community committees to oversee the effects of the project on dwellers.
The communities have since tabled their demands to the Polihali dam authorities.
The LHWP Polihali Branch Manager Gerard Mokone has since promised to hand over their demands to the authorities for attention after a protest march in Tlokoeng, Mokhotlong.
The Polihali water project is expected to be completed in 2025. It is also set to build roads infrastructure, generate electricity and create jobs.