From a distance, the Katse dam is a spectacle of engineering. It has been constructed to the highest engineering standards in the world and various parts of the project have won international recognised awards.
The dam has nonetheless caused untold suffering amongst the 20, 000 people whose livelihoods have been affected by construction of the dam.
The communities living around the Katse dam have suffered numerous setbacks as a result of the dam. One of the most critical setbacks has been the decline in food security as their arable lands were inundated. LHDA put in place a compensation plan for the lost fields but the compensation has fallen far short of the expectations of local communities as they say they are receiving paltry payments which have condemned the villagers to poverty and starvation.
Mamonake Monaheng and Makeketso Kuoane from the village of Rapooea in Katse say one of the major challenges they face as women affected by large developments is collecting firewood. This crucial resource which was inundated by the Katse dam has become scarce, forcing women to travel long hours to get firewood from the village streams.
The twigs consisting of Senokonoko, moluoane and lengala is the least they can get from the streams to use in their homes for cooking, warming up and lighting. Important things like fruit trees, wild vegetables and medicinal plants, which cured different illnesses have been lost to the dam.
The village of Mapeleng was affected by the seismic shift in 1995 during the inundation of the Katse dam. As a result of the seismic shift the natural springs dried up and this village lacked access to clean drinking water for 16years. Seinoli Legal Centre assisted this community to lodge a case before the High Court of Lesotho in 2011 to claim restoration of clean water supply for the community.
This community won the battle against Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA). Today Mapeleng community has access to clean drinking water and this has helped alleviate the community from water borne diseases and the struggle of walking long distances to access to clean water.
Despite this victory, this community is still facing many challenges in relation to non- payment of compensation of its grazing land, natural resources and arable land that were affected some 26 years back when Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) was implemented.
LHDA’s non-compliance with its obligations in terms of the 1986 Treaty, the Lesotho 1993 Constitution and the 1986 LHDA Order, has continued to create a huge justice gap which has left the affected communities without access to their basic human rights.
Ha Lejone is one of many communities which had to sacrifice their land for Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). Katse dam is Africa’s first largest water project which was constructed in 1989 for the purposes of supplying water to the Republic of South Africa and generating hydropower for Lesotho.
The LHWP has stimulated lucrative commercial fish farming deals and projects like Highlands Trout, which undertakes large scale trout production in Katse dam. It has been exporting fish caught in the katse dam to Japan and South Africa over the years.
It is a different reality for local fishermen who claim they have not been benefiting from the dam. The fishermen explain that fishing has become a nightmare for locals.
Two fishermen from Ha Lejone Tumelo Ratjofa and Namane Namane say local fishermen are only allowed to catch fish from the dam if they have fishing licenses which cost M100.00; if they do not have licences, they get arrested and their fishing equipment gets confiscated.
Both fishermen said they have been victims of harassment for catching fish in the dam. Mr Ratjofa has been arrested together with his wife and Mr Namane was shot at.
Namane and Ratjofa believe that their community should be free to fish at any time and not be limited to how many fish to catch; after all, they were told by the LHDA that they were beneficiaries of this project.
Seinoli believes that LHWP should ensure fair distribution of benefits and guarantee better livelihoods for affected communities by improving the economic condition of local fishermen.
Developments like dam constructions should bring better prospects of life for host communities, however this is not the case for the Katse communities whose lives have been eroded by the construction of the Katse dam. The dam was constructed in 1989 as a binational project between Lesotho and South Africa which was administered by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in the highlands of Lesotho which is predominantly rural in character and where poverty is inevitable and intense.
Prior to the implementation, 88 villages that were settled in the area were hopeful that this project would help them attain better and improved living standards as they were promised jobs and compensation in the form of cash for assets that would be affected and ancillary developments in their community and a resettlement programme for people whose houses would have to be relocated, all of which the project authority never met.
Instead, this community which depended on subsistence agriculture as the main source of livelihood incurred a loss of arable, grazing land, houses, graves, forests, medicinal plants and other indigenous plants, cultural roots and control of their natural resources to the project.
The existence of the Katse dam has shown more dissatisfaction by the community. The community says before the dam everything was plentiful, firewood, fertile river banks, cropland, good pastures and peace of mind but now they endure hard lives. “Today is different, we are poorer than before because many promises were made by the project authority but never met and this has resulted to the communities being seriously poverty- stricken”. Malibuseng Bosiu says in an interview.
The existence of the Katse dam has resulted to involuntary resettlement, loss of land for food and livestock production, loss of housing and related property, loss of social and physical infrastructure, loss of bio-diversity promotion of seismic activity and changes in the environment, the loss of social morality and social networks all of which have disrupted the lives and livelihoods of the dam impacted communities and subject them to risks and high vulnerability for sustainable livelihoods. The dam impacted areas had also retained a high scourge of STDs and HIV/AIDS during and after the dam construction phases which were brought about by dam operations and immigrant workers.
During Phase 1A of the Katse dam, about 1 900 hectares of arable land was lost, which also affected about 2, 345 households. Further loss of land of about 1, 000 hectares of arable land was added which affected 1 000 households. The lost grazing land as a result of Katse, ‘Muela, and Mohale was 5 000 hectares jointly. Other losses during Phase 1A were 3 000 trees and 17 hectares of garden land. The community also lost about 3, 000 trees, and 17 hectares of garden land. Maize and pulses were mainly given out as compensation for lost arable land during Phase 1A, while cash could be considered during Phase 1B.
Villagers from Ha Kostable claim they lost their trees and reed to the dam and were promised compensation but that was never fulfilled. The resettlement programme was a failure as far as reconstruction of the livelihoods of the resettled communities and households were concerned.
The plight of the community goes beyond material necessities, extending to “lost family ties”, the dam has separated many communities that once closely interacted with one another through physical, social and economic linkages that connected them.
The communities relayed highly on fishery, the fish they caught they ate in their own households and some they would sell locally in small batches but now fishing has become restricted by LHDA. They are required to apply for fishing permits which only enables them to catch only two fish per day per person and that they also be of specified size (fish should be the size of a ruler). Without the fishing permits they are arrested and their fish catches are confiscated. This they saw as a grave injustice where fish that they had always had free access to for generations were now inaccessible to them whilst the fishing companies could draw the fish from the dam in their droves.
The villagers lamented that LHDA has also forsaken them by reneging on its promises made in 1987 when the construction of the Katse dam started. The disgruntled villagers want compensation for their fields and houses that were cover by the dam. The few “lucky” ones who have received payments are also very unhappy about the paltry amount. They were also promised ancillary developments like roads, electricity and Health facilities, improvement of schools but that has not been fulfilled.
Lesotho is on the verge of beginning construction of Polihali Dam under Phase II of LHWP. In fact, advance infrastructure works are already being implemented, to pave way for the dam and already, the negative impacts on the communities are enormous. Women in particular are the ones who tend to bear the brunt of the severe social, economic and environmental hardships which come with these developments. One of the many women who are affected by this project spoke to Seinoli Legal Centre (SLC) about her plight.
‘M’e Mantloheleng Keqa is a woman from the village of Ha Ramolakalali, whose house was mowed down by a construction vehicle working on the project. Not only was she left homeless for days but her household items, cooking implements, and furniture were destroyed, limiting her ability to provide food and warmth for her family. With the shabby patch works done and no economical support, she and her family are left with no choice but to continue living in a house that is clearly unsafe for them.
Rightfully, LHDA as the implementing authority has the obligation to ensure the wellbeing and safety of people affected by LHWP as well as ensuring that people are compensated for the losses they incur as a result of the project. For ‘M’e Mantloheleng, this is a legal imperative which is yet to be fulfilled. Her lack of access to justice and remedy and her inability, due to financial limitations, to access lawyers and the courts of law has clearly worked to her disadvantage. This is the reality for thousands of people who are affected by this project.
Seinoli Legal Centre has been working directly with the affected communities for many years to provide capacity strengthening, legal support and tools to enable communities to assert and demand their rights and to promote and protect the rights of people like ‘M’e Mantloheleng.