Power project divides village

Power project divides village

MASERU – WHEN people who were living around Mohale Dam were relocated to Ha-Mosalla, their hosts welcomed them with open arms and for 18 years they lived as one people.
Their livestock shared grazing lands.
The small classrooms in the area had to make do with increased numbers after the relocation that followed the 1986 water treaty between Lesotho and South Africa and the building of Mohale Dam.

All in all, they had become one community under one chief and shared the natural resources without many problems.
But an electricity project that has been dogged by allegations of favouritism is threatening to tear apart the community that had for three decades overcome their differences to live as one people.
Instead of unity, there is now open resentment and anger.

Last week, the hosts were shocked after the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) connected electricity supplies to homes belonging to the relocated villagers while they were sidelined.
The LHDA is the executive arm of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which tunnels water from Lesotho’s Katse and Mohale Dams to South Africa’s Gauteng province.
The LHDA has a policy to help villages affected by the water project, in particular to compensate families whose properties were taken away.

The families that moved to Ha-Mosalla were among those eligible for the LHDA compensation hence the installation of electricity free of charge to their houses last week.
Their hosts were furious.
“We are one community when they use our natural resources but when they get electricity from the LHDA we are two separate communities,” said one villager.

This has divided the Ha-Mosalla villagers into two camps — the happy electricity receivers and the disconsolate hosts.
Ha-Mosalla comprises of three villages, Sekantšing, Ha-Majoro, and Sekoting all under Chief Tšeliso Jobo.
The people of Sekantšing, Ha-Majoro and Sekoting demonstrated their discontent and disapproval of the electricity project last Thursday.
The police had to be roped in after they disrupted the launch of the electricity project by Energy Minister Tsukutlane Au and the LHDA CEO Refiloe Tlali.
“We will not stand such division that the LHDA wants to bring in our village,” shouted an angry villager.
“We will not stand it at all…” others chanted.

Prior to the commencement of the event, villagers were trickling for the event before a group of villagers suddenly stood up from their seats to join a cluster of people that was beginning to gain numbers by the road side.
They chanted songs of defiance against the minister and the LHDA CEO.
The compensation programme by LHDA is to develop areas where villages affected by the dam construction are relocated.
The development can be roads, electricity or water, which developments do not only benefit the settlers but the village in which they have resettled.

“These people have come here to pull us apart, to divide us and allow hatred to brew among us,” the villagers shouted.
“We don’t want them here!”
They did not mince their words, telling Tlali and Au and the LHDA off.
“Initially, the LHDA had promised to light up all divisions of Ha-Mosalla and now we are surprised to hear that the sod turning was for one division only,” Paseka Theko, a villager from Sekantšing said.
Theko said for years they have requested for electricity from the government, “but they have been giving us empty promises”.
“Politicians come here during elections giving us endless promises that they have not fulfilled till this very day,” he said.
“Empty promises!”

The villagers made threats but could not specify what exactly they were going to do.
“I cannot say what we will do, but I swear to you, this will never be a peaceful village because of this,” Theko said.
“The people who the project is concentrating on will just have to see how they will manage living in a village that is divided and has no peace.”
After saying this, Theko asked people from his camp to leave the event.
“Let us go. Let us leave these traitors here. The minister is further going to lie to us,” he said.
Quite a large number of villagers left the sod turning venue.

Chief Jobo said the division in his village is not giving him peace.
“I hate a divided community but there is nothing I can do because the LHDA explained clearly to me how this compensation works and I cannot stop these developments for the people that do genuinely deserve them,” Chief Jobo said.
The chief said he just as much understands the frustration in his village because for years they have been promised electricity.
“I am going to work hard to see that the promises given here today by the minister and the Member of Parliament are fulfilled for the peace of my community,” he said.

The MP for Thaba-Bosiu constituency, Thabo Sofonia, said it is sad that the development comes at a time when the people’s patience has been stretched to the limit, especially after the government failed to fulfil its promises to them.
“This has brought a great challenge to this village and it didn’t start being this bad today, we all know,” Sofonia said.
“During the consultations we requested the LHDA to at least invest the money into the electricity scheme in which all divisions of this village have already invested and then allow us to talk to the Minister of Energy and those that have a stake to come and connect electricity to all the homes in the village. But our talks were all in vain,” he said.
“I promise that I will work to the best of my ability to have the whole village lit by the end of this year,” Jobo said but the villagers shouted back: “No! It’s not true.”

Jobo reasoned with them: “We will never develop as a village if we are going to put spanners before these small developments.”
The Minister of Energy, Tsukutlane Au, promised to address the issue “as soon as possible because a divided village lives in bitterness and anger”.
“This is not what we want our people to become in this government,” Au said.
“Our mandate is to develop, empower and protect the nation,” he said.
“The water has been muddied and the dross needs to settle down before we can fix this.”

The LHDA’s Community Projects Planning Coordinator, Naleli Martins, told the villagers straight away that the development would be only for the resettled families.
“The development is mainly for the people that were affected and the precise village within which they live,” Martins said.
“They are not meant for the entire village and its subdivisions,” he said.
Martins said the LHDA has never promised the four subdivisions of the village any electricity development.
“This is not LHDA’s money, it is the beneficiaries’ money and they together tell us what developments they want in the village they have been relocated to (and we comply).”

Martins said some beneficiaries in other villages requested roads and others water.
Affected families from around Mohale Dam were relocated in 53 villages.
They formed associations wherever they relocated to so that it could be easy for the LHDA to help them as a group.
Martins said at first the resettled families were helped with “projects like piggery projects, broiler projects and so on to restore their livelihoods”.

“These projects however, did not benefit a lot of the beneficiaries because there was lack of financial literacy among them,” Martins said.
Martins said in order for the beneficiaries to get the next batch of money, they had to account for the money they received before for project management purposes.

Rose Moremoholo

 

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