LHWP is the economy’s ‘backbone’: Thabane

. . . makes U-turn on former doubting Thomas stance

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Prime Minister Thomas Thabane made a U-turn on his stance on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) which he used to heavily criticise when he lauded the project this week calling it the backbone of the country’s ailing economy.

Thabane has previously reiterated at different fora that Lesotho was not getting as much benefit as it should from the water it sells to South Africa.

Through the LHWP, the multi-dam water project developed in partnership between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa and signed into life in 1986, Lesotho transfers water from the highlands to the industrial centre of South Africa, Gauteng.

The project is considered Africa’s largest water transfer scheme.

However, it has been hugely criticised by some Basotho who believe the agreement is skewed towards the benefit of South Africa while Lesotho is just a tank that stores water for its rich neighbour without benefitting.

While Lesotho transfers water to South Africa, 80 percent of the rural population still collects drinking water from unprotected sources, according to the World Vision.

And, that majority of them must travel more than 30 minutes to collect this unsafe water.

In September, Public Eye reported that Lesotho earns sixty-four lisente, on average, per thousand litres of raw water it sells to South Africa.

In the 2018/2019 financial year, Water and Sewage Company (WASCO), government-owned water utility that supplies bulk potable drinking water to urban areas, charged domestic Band A customers M5.53 per 1,000 litres.

“Look at what the project has done for our economy, it is carrying our economy,” Thabane told Public Eye on Tuesday.

“Now as I am talking to you, I have been asked by some neighbouring countries that Lesotho should also transfer water to them. They need water,” he added.

He indicated that it was time Lesotho seized the opportunity to become the world’s largest exporter of raw water.

“All we have to do is to sit down with the countries, sign these contracts for water transfer and get the money. We will then use that money from water sales to alleviate poverty in our country like we have been doing with the LHWP money,” he said.

In January this year, he told members of his party All Basotho Convention (ABC) during an open rally at Ha Abia in Maseru that despite the fact that he is a prime minister, he did not know where money from the LHWP was going to.

According to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority’s (LHDA) comprehensive water sales report for the period from November 1996 to July 2019, the country made a revenue of M9 949 916 036 from selling 15,453.20 million cubic metres of water to South Africa.

The LHDA water sales report, published on the LHDA website earlier this year, further revealed that Lesotho received about M936 million in royalties from exporting some 779 million cubic metres of water to South Africa in 2018.

In 2017, some 779 million cubic metres of water were transferred to South Africa and Lesotho received about M903 million in royalties.

In 2016, a M837 million revenue was made from the sale of 779 million cubic metres.

Now Lesotho is in the grip of a nationwide drought that has depleted dams, cut output by the ’Muela hydropower station and caused harvests to fail.

Due to this drought, the water Level at Katse Dam, Africa’s second largest double-curvature arch dam, has hit the lowest mark since the reservoir was first filled with water in 1997.

LHDA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tente Tente told Public Eye due to the low levels of water, the LHDA had reduced the amount of water that is being transferred to South Africa.

“Basotho may indirectly be affected by this situation because in the short term, the reduced amount of water that is being transferred to South Africa will result in reduced royalty revenue that goes into the Lesotho Government coffers,” Tente said.

This week Thabane said drought was a perennial headache.

“I am beginning to wonder what we should do. This is not affecting Lesotho alone, as you would know southern Africa has been identified as the so-called hotspot, a region that faces increased risks of heat extremes and less rainfall. This drought is affecting the whole of Southern Africa,” he said.

“Drought is touching on the basis of our livelihood. But we are crossing our fingers, we will mitigate this drought,” he added.

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