By The Reporter
Residents of Ha Joele, Ribaneng in Mafeteng district are fearful that the impending implementation of the Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme will plunge them into the doom of losing their valuable properties. This emerged during the launch of Seinoli Legal Centre’s new website and the screening of two films depicting the voices of the residents and how they might be impacted by the giant transnational project.
The films showcase the impact of water infrastructure projects on host communities in the country, with Ribaneng community being one of them. Lesotho-Botswana Water Project compromises the construction of a dam and water storage reservoir in the Lesotho lowlands. The objective of the project is to undertake a full feasibility study for the bulk water conveyance system from the proposed dam on the Makhaleng River to transfer water to Botswana through South Africa, covering the technical, economic, and financial feasibility of the project. A chunk of villagers who will be affected lives in the area located between Makhaleng and Ribaneng rivers.
The Orange-Senqu Commission (ORASECOM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2013 to facilitate the implementation of executing feasibility studies on the project. An amount of US$2.68 million (slightly over
M45 million) was sourced from the African Development Bank (AFDB) through ORASECOM. According to documentation by the AFDB, the feasibility studies began in April 2021 with an expected completion date of June 2023.
Commenting on concerns raised by the Makhaleng community in the film, a consultant and senior lecturer in development studies at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Setšabi Setšabi observed that public participation plays a vital role in issues that affect the community. As a result, he added, such participation should be taken into consideration before the commencement of the project as required by international law.
He said the film by Seinoli highlighted the theme of public participation and the anxiety of the people who are to be affected by the project. It also showed how through the grapevine the communities heard that they may be relocated. “These two things highlighted a major gap in access to information about the proposed dam. “Imagine after working so hard being told by the grapevines that your house will be relocated and your ways of living might change. That simply shows how anxious the community is over the project,” Setšabi added.
Further, he noted that Ribaneng community has its own way of life and culture which include farming, rearing livestock, and access to resources such as water and wood. “As a result, changing the way they live is going to be difficult for them especially if they do not have enough information on how the matter will be undertaken,” he warned. Setšabi said the document called The Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement (2018) outlines the major public participation activities before, during, and after evictions.
He explained that before evictions the following activities should take place: appropriate notice, information
dissemination to affected communities, and dialogue with affected communities. Additionally, sensitization on human rights, participation in environmental, social, and human rights impact assessments as well as assessments of all personal assets should also be taken into consideration.
“During evictions all human rights standards must be observed, especially the rights of women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly,” he observed. Setšabi added that after evictions, governments must ensure that the shelter – housing, food, water and sanitation, medical services, livelihood resources, education for children as well as standards of living are observed. Setšabi urged that the community should benefit from their own developments that are through access to jobs, greater food security, and access to potable water and water for their livestock.
The community also has rights to improved access to sustainable energy, improved road infrastructure, access to rangelands as well as access to fishing in the dam. For his part, legal practitioner Advocate Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela emphasised that public participation is one of the fundamental human rights for the communities to be part of decision-making in matters that affect their livelihoods. He said the legal right to access information is
also critical for the affected people adding that “people perish for lack of knowledge.” He noted: “Full information is required on the standard of living of the people in terms of health, socio-economic status, and others have to be fully documented before the commencement of the project,” He said the community has to benefit through compensation fund after losing their properties, especially land.
“Compensation should also be done because land is permanently taken from communities while compensation is only temporary for a 50-year period. “Future generations of the communities will never enjoy any benefit from the land which the forefathers had,” Sekonyela stressed. Seinoli is a public interest law centre that provides free legal services and support to communities which get affected by the implementation of large infrastructure development projects in the country. The center’s unique approach leverages strategic litigation, advocacy, and capacity strengthening of communities to empower such communities to demand and assert their rights.
In Southern Africa and specifically in Lesotho, the displacement of rural communities from their land, with little or no compensation, represents one of the negative impacts of land-based investments such as the construction of dams. It results in the displacement of rural communities from the land they depend on for growing food, building shelters, fetching water, grazing their animals, and accessing land-based resources.
The launch of the website was said to be a great milestone that will enable Seinoli to share its work with affected communities, members of the public, and other important stakeholders locally, regionally, and internationally. It will also enable the law NGO to receive feedback and learn how best to support the communities and improve services. The website is www.seinoli.org.ls