Anger over Polihali  compensation rates

Anger over Polihali compensation rates

PEKA – RESIDENTS set to lose land earmarked for the construction of Polihali Dam say they have been offered 68 cents for every square metre of their land, a figure they describe as paltry.
Affected members of the community said the offer by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) falls far short of their expectations.
The LHDA is the executive arm of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which is co-owned by Lesotho and South Africa.

After construction, Polihali Dam is expected to help increase Lesotho’s supply of fresh water to South Africa’s economic hub, the Gauteng Province from the current 780 million cubic metres to 1 255 million cubic metres per annum. Water exports to South Africa are a major source of revenue for Lesotho.
But the community in Polihali and surrounding areas feel cheated.

They made their concerns known at an indaba organised by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary last Saturday.
One of the community representatives, Lehlomela Lekobane, described the 68 cents offer as a “smart way of insulting” the people.
Farmers are making much more money growing food on the land than the figure they are being offered, said Lekobane.

Lekobane told thepost after the indaba that villagers get no less than M4 per square metre for food items such as maize they sell at the market.
The size of agricultural land owned by a family ranges between three and four acres or around 16 000 square meters, according to the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics.
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 85 percent of the people in Lesotho live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture.
With the LHDA targeting their land, Polihali residents will be deprived of their agricultural activities, while the compensation is not commensurate with their anticipated losses, said Lekobane.
He argued that villagers “can make a lot of money just from selling maize cobs”.

“We are pleading with the LHDA to review the offer. I believe that through negotiations we will reach a solid agreement,” he said.
He accused the government of neglecting the interests of villagers when it facilitated the agreement between the community and the LHDA.
Land owners were not fully aware of the details that could help them negotiate more effectively, said Lekobane.

Lekobane said a law stipulating that market prices should be paid as compensation for land losses only applied to urban areas, leaving rural folk vulnerable due to lack of proper valuation procedures for “kraals, trees and soil”. He said although they are living in a rural set up, the residents are in possession Form C documents proving ownership of the plots.
“Why are we being discriminated against? Form C gives me rights over my properties as an ordinary citizen. We are even told that we will be compensated only for 50 years but the government law says land belongs to its owner for 99 years,” he said, bemoaning lack of consultation.

“The meetings were not successful. We could not reach an agreement but they still made their decision irrespective of that,” Lekobane said, adding that villagers wanted a review.
He said the LHDA promised to pay them M78 000 “but later reneged saying we would misuse it and instead decided to use it for financial literacy training for our children”.
Bolae Matalasi, a representative of the Mokhotlong community, said the compensation should be fair.
“Mokhotlong residents are smart and educated. We know our rights,” Matalasi said.

He said residents wanted the LHDA to construct a road from Maluba-Lube to Ha-Janteu.
“They should do it, we need it. They should stop saying the road will be constructed by the government,” he said.
Matalasi said the community wanted the 1986 water treaty with South Africa to be reviewed as it is out-dated.

Gerard Mokone, the LHDA Director for Polihali, said the authority is trying to find common ground with the residents, but downplayed some of the grievances raised by the community.
“We are doing our job according to the laws and the treaty itself. We went to the residents and we have minutes of the meeting,” Mokone said.
He said the residents had rejected a proposal for a once off payment.

“They did not agree, saying they learned that Basotho do not know how to spend their funds therefore they should be given money every year instead of getting it all at once,” he said.
“They even said we should offer them maize and beans every year,” Mokone said.
“We then aligned ourselves with the LHWP Phase I agreement and that is where 50 years compensation comes from. We cannot go above 50 years because the residents are the ones who chose to be paid every year for 50 years,” he said.

He said individuals can choose how they want to be compensated.
“They can change every year. One can choose to take money for certain years or take food for certain years,” Mokone said.
Mokone said training programmes will help residents to invest wisely once they get compensated.

“People said they need expertise so we are just going to make sure that they are aware of what they can do with their money.”
He said some were already engaged in honey farming in Mokhotlong after undergoing training facilitated by the LHDA.
“We are also going to create a platform for them to learn vegetable production,” he said.

Mokone said residents will be paid M2 456 per household in addition to the communal land payments. They will also receive compensation for personal land.
“A single village will get millions as compensation when it is fully paid. I am a Mosotho too and I take sides with Basotho,” he said.
TRC Director Tsikoane Peshoane warned against repeating “mistakes” made during construction of the first two dams.

“For that reason we collaborated with the Sisters who visited the villages and our office so as to assure that work is done smoothly,” he said.
On behalf of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Sister Lebina said they went to the villages in the project area and “found out that LHDA, the government and the residents do not agree with some things”.

“We found people who are not happy at all,” Sr. Lebina said.
“We then decided to call a meeting with all stakeholders for the sake of Basotho and we hope an agreement will be reached,” she said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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