Villagers fight over river

Villagers fight over river

MASERU-BUSINESSMAN Tumo Tlelai is accused of grabbing part of the Leporo-poro River and the nearby Oxbow Lake where community members used to fish for survival.
Tlelai, a quarrying mogul who also mines sand and sells building blocks, fenced part of the river that forms a boundary between Sekamaneng and Ha-Foso villages in Berea two years ago.

Villagers allege that Tlelai’s workers stop them and accuse them of trespassing when they try to reach Oxbow Lake to fish or when they take their livestock to the river to drink.
Disgruntled villagers told thepost this week that they feel dispossessed of their right to benefit from their local resources, and lack the financial muscle to take on Tlelai.

’Maleseli Nkhapetla, a villager in Sekamaneng whose house is close to Tlelai’s business premises, said life has become unbearable for her and others.
“I really struggle to do laundry as there is no water around here and the clean source of water that I relied on is now inaccessible,” Nkhapetla complained.

“I don’t see any reason why he had to fence it because people are not interested in destroying his property,” she said.
She claimed that the businessman used to pour used oil in the river to dissuade villagers from using the water.

“We used to wash there despite him pouring oil and he decided to fence it off after seeing that the trick didn’t work,” she said, adding that intervention by the village chief seems to be failing to resolve the impasse.
Another resident, ’Manyeoe Monyane, shared similar sentiments.
“I have no choice when the other part of the stream goes dry and the only water will be in the lake but it is no longer available to us,” Monyane said.
She said they tried to fight but lost.

“At first, villagers cut the wire but it didn’t work,” she said.
Lietsiso Khabanyane of Sekamaneng accused Tlelai of forcefully taking ownership of the river and lake without engaging community members.
“That lake belongs to the community and he took it without giving back anything in return,” Khabanyane said.

“This hurts. Not only did he make the community suffer but his attainment of the site was only known by him and the chief. No other person in the community committee knew about it. Even our councillor is still surprised,” he said.
“It’s sad how just one person can make a whole community suffer because of money,” he added.

The Sekamaneng chief’s assistant, Sekei Nkola, said he was shocked when he saw the place fenced, especially because he doesn’t recall Tlelai applying to the local government council to occupy the area.
Nkola said he was told that he was trespassing when he tried to pass through the place last month.
“The workers there wanted to fight me. I had to turn back,” Nkola said.
“I really don’t know what’s happening there and I even asked the Principal Chief to help as this is causing a lot of confusion,” he said.
Ha-Foso Chief, Masupha Majara, refused to weigh in, saying the matter is before the courts.

“The issues regarding that site are in the hands of the courts,” Chief Majara said.
The councillor for Ha-Foso, Mahlehlenyane Moletsane, said his hands were tied after Tlelai sued him in a separate case involving quarry mining.
“I am not able to talk about it as I was advised to leave him alone by the court,” Moletsane said.
Khubetsoana councillor, Ntjana Nkobo, under whom Sekamaneng falls, said he has since asked the village chief to summon Tlelai and also check the authenticity of his documents.

“But to date, nothing has happened,” Nkobo said, adding that he doesn’t recall applying to the council to occupy the area.
“His application would reach the Maseru City Council through me or my predecessor if it was made before I entered office,” said Nkobo.
Nkobo became a councillor before Sekamaneng was declared part of the Maseru City Council, which means Tlelai’s application could not reach the city council without his knowledge.

If Tlelai was allocated the land together with part of the river before Sekamaneng was declared part of the Maseru City Council, then the records should be available in the then council office and the chief’s office.
Also, if he was allocated the land by the chief before the ushering in of the Local Government Act, he should have a form-C from the chief given in or before 1979.
The records of the allocation of land by the chief would be available in the office of the Sekamaneng chief.

Also, issues involving activities of the size of Tlelai’s business on land would be under the watchful eye of the council in terms of the Local Government Act, meaning the council would be aware of the size of Tlelai’s property.
Nkobo said he suspected that Tlelai did not follow prescribed procedures before fencing the area.
“It really doesn’t sit well with me considering the many people who are complaining and I know how often people used the river and the lake,” he said.

“I don’t believe Maseru City Council (MCC) can give a person a river to fence it off,” Nkobo said.
In response, Tlelai said he bought the site and has a lease to prove ownership.
Tlelai said the fencing off of the site was at the recommendation of the Mabote Police Station Commander, “considering lots of people who were killed and then dumped in there”.

“Those villagers are lying because I have a lease with boundaries for that place, which include the dam. We always fought as the police accused me of causing criminality within that dam area. There have been about five cases,” Tlelai said.
He said he had not received “even a single serious complaint” after he fenced the area.

“Those that complained brought (silly) complaints,” he said, stating that people wanted to use the dam during weekends.
“I do allow them to go before lunch because we work half a day on Saturday and Sunday is our day off so the gates are closed,” he said.
“I don’t know why they accuse me of pouring oil in there and even if I did, that’s my dam but I am not that heartless and I know that people don’t get satisfied. They can create whatever stories,” he said, threatening: “If they keep on like this, I will close everything all together.”

“I even put fish in there to help community members. I don’t even have a problem with them when they come to fish as long as they follow my rules,” Tlelai said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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