Residents of Mapholaneng in the Mokhotlong stopped the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Mapholaneng road construction this week.
The residents barricaded the construction site with stones, Newsday was told in protest to the Lesotho Highland Development Authority (LHDA) managing the project citing the construction companies working there have employed unskilled workers from outside the communities.
According to Newsday sources in Mokhotlong, residents started their strike on Monday in the early hours and blocked the construction.
The road links Mapholaneng and the Polihali Dam site.
“They complained that the company did not employe them, but rather employed people from outside Mokhotlong,” the source said.
The source added, “Another complaint was that the road is affecting their houses and their fields. Some of the residents have sold their land to LHDA, but a number of them have been paid, while some have not been paid.”
“The agreement between them and LHDA was that their payments should have be done before the project starts. Unfortunately, that did not happen,” source explained.
In an interview with Newsday on Monday, Survivors of Lesotho Dams Coordinator, Lenka Thamae said he is aware of the strike in Mokhotlong.
“We are part of the strike to support the residents. As SOLD, we have planned mass action that will be held in areas affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project next week, on April 25, 2019.
“The protest will take the place at the same time in Katse, ‘Muela, Mohale, Polihali and Metolong dams,” Lenka said.
“Mokhotlong residents said they could not wait for our mass action that is why they took action on their own thinking that there will be a change of plans. We are yet to write a letter to LHDA and Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS) to inform the about all the details of the planed mass action,’’ Thamae said.
Newsday source, indicated that later on Monday, the matter was resolved.
“The residents had a meeting with LHDA. Authorities promised that they will respond to their grievances,” the source said.
Thamae stated that the communities have resorted to approaching the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for intervention.
He added that they have presented their matter before PAC Chairman, Selibe Mochoboroane who agreed to help them only if they provide tangible proof.
Polihali Operations Manager at LHDA Gerard Mokone when contacted for clarity told this paper that the strike was not about compensation but the main issue was on employment.
“They are complaining that the employed people who are not from Mokhotlong area do not have any skills. According to the LHDA hiring policy, any authority project that takes place within a certain area, residents of that area should be employed by a constructing company with or without skills. The people from outside should be skills,” said Mokone.
Mokone said they met with one of the construction companies which provided them a list of the employees.
“We gave the list to Mapholaneng committee to check the resident’s names and occupation. On the issue of compensations, we met with the group that have not been paid before the project could start.
We were hoping that all of them would have been paid before the project starts, but things did not go as planned,” Mokone explained.
He added: “We will start with payments in May. We have not yet received Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 2019 from the Central Bank of Lesotho. We are hoping to receive it next week so that we can adjust the rate. From there we will make payments. Fortunately, the strike did not affect the road process.”
Mokone indicated that they are aware of the mass action that will be staged next week.
“We have not yet received their letter but we are expecting it. From there, the authority will solve everything,” Mokene said.
Polihali Dam is LHWP’s multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho.
It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu (Orange) River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
The bilateral project of Polihali which is estimated to cost M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation and power lines).