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Lesotho: Highlands water project

Lesotho’s billion-dollar Highlands Water Project involves the construction of a series of massive tunnels and dams to take water from the Senqu/Orange River to South Africa’s industrial heartland, Gauteng province.

Lesotho receives annual royalties from the sale of its water, and some hydro-electric power.

The first testimonies from a highland community due to be submerged under the waters of one of the dams were gathered in 1998 as part of our mountains project. These accounts allowed the older generation to record their own histories and way of life immediately before they had to leave the area, and provided valuable information on the pre-resettlement negotiations.

The second stage in 2001/2002 involved collection of testimonies with many of the same individuals, and focused on their experiences of resettlement and of adapting to life in their new locations. For many, the ability to survive by hard work and skilful use of their mountain environment has been replaced by a demoralising dependency on compensation payments.

Our partner, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), has targeted national and regional audiences as part of a range of activities to raise awareness of the situation and to advocate on behalf of the resettled.

In 2004 TRC produced Sesotho and English versions of a booklet based on the interviews, The irony of the ‘white gold’, and in 2006 published the report On the wrong side of development.

Extracts from the testimonies

“[In this new location] we do not know where a majority of [medicinal plants] grow. When you want them you will probably have to ask for assistance from one of the residents here… But in Molika-liko we knew where everything grew, and when a person became sick or a child had the runs, we would readily find them.”
Motseki (male), 45 years old

“Life is difficult here. Everything is money here. Nowadays we are forced to scratch our heads thinking about what is going to be eaten in the household in the evening… The diet has changed…we are not able to grow the kind of crops we used to grow because we do not have the land to cultivate. Here we are forced to wait for winter when we will receive our compensation yet at Molika-liko we… used to eat wheat, maize and potatoes…wild vegetables, cabbage, radish, beans, peas, lentils, milk…”
‘Matokelo (female), 42 years old

“Since I got here, I have no clients…no clients at all and I have stopped practising [herbal medicine]! … In truth ntate, we have run out of wisdom and means totally, because that manner in which we brought in income beforehand, here we don’t get the opportunity at all.”
Khethisa (male), 49 years old

“I think this [resettlement] is a great help to [young people] because schools are many and nearby, unlike in Molika-liko where they had to walk long distances to school. The problem arises when we don’t have money, but really they have been brought near to many things like schools and a health clinic.”
‘Malibuseng (female), 36 years old

See also

Transformation Resource Centre


Lesotho: Highlands water project is produced as part of the Displaced for development oral testimony project.


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