‘Liquid gold’ (water) flows from the mountains of Lesotho down to South Africa as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), one of the largest infrastructure constructions in the world, designed to provide South Africa with a much-needed water supply and valuable income for the Lesotho economy. The LHWP was formed by a treaty which was signed by Lesotho and South Africa in 1986, and currently consists of two dams; Katse and Mohale, a hydropower plant, and their associated network of transfer tunnels and roads.
Work began on Katse dam in 1989, and its sluice gates closed in 1995, beginning the process of filling up the reservoir behind the dam. It was inaugurated in 1998, and the first deliveries of water to South Africa, and power began in that year. Mohale dam was inaugurated in 2004. When completed, the LHWP will include three further dams, two of which are currently in planning.
Social and environmental impact
Despite its economic benefits, the first phase of the LHWP has adversely affected thousands of indigenous people living on the mountainsides surrounding the construction. Over 30,000 people have been displaced and many have lost homes, land, and even supplies of clean water as a direct result of the construction.
Those affected were promised that their lives would be as good as if not better than before the LHWP. However, many remain homeless, isolated, hungry, and with no means of livelihood. The land they have lost was vital to sustaining their agricultural livelihoods and without it some have had to rely on handouts of maize to survive. Their environment has been polluted, cultural and social networks have been destroyed, and life expectancy has dropped. During the first phase of the LHWP, HIV/Aids was introduced by construction workers in the highland communities, and now nearly 1 in 3 adults is affected.
Protimos was first approached by project-affected peoples and members of local civil society organisations because all options to provide compensation had been exhausted. For many, legal assistance is the only route left.
Protimos and Transformation Resource Centre in Maseru have been developing a project to work towards justice for the affected communities; to seek compensation and damages; to help protect those who will be affected by future phases of the LHWP from the same treatment; and to empower the communities to be able to understand and assert their legal rights on their own.
Read more about what we are doing on the project.