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SA gets water relief from Lesotho for next 3 years
27 October 2016

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project says it has capacity to deliver its agreed 780 million cubic litres of water every year to South Africa for the next three years even if it does not rain, and even though implementation of Phase two has been delayed.

The Project allayed fears of El Nino impact as it marks 30 years since the signing of the Lesotho Highlands Project Treaty by Lesotho and SA on October 24, 1986.

Way back in the 1950s Lesotho then known as Basutoland was a British Protectorate, and the High Commissioner or a representative of the Queen of England was Sir Evelyn Baring.

He was the first person to commission a survey of the territory because he thought it could have a high altitude dam with a hydropower project and a tunnel to transfer water to the mines in the Orange Free State.

At the time South Africa rejected the plan, until it was hit by a drought in the 1960s.

In the 1970s the Department of Water sent experts to take rock samples and map out the project, but it didn't take off because of differences with the then regime of Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan until 1978.

In 1983 agreement for a joint feasibility study was reached and the study was completed in April 1986.

In the interim Prime Minister Jonathan was overthrown by the military at the beginning of 1986.

On October 24, 1986, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries, one a military Counsellor Colonel Thaabe Letsie and another apartheid government Minister Pik Botha signed the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Treaty.

The Chief Executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority Refiloe Tlali says, “I would definitely say it has been realised, as we speak since 1998 water has been delivered to South Africa and citizens of Gauteng have been utilising that."

Tlali says, "Similarly, Lesotho has been enjoying electricity being generated at Muela and Lesotho is getting Royalties revenue on an annual basis."

There have been other developments which include tourism in Lesotho and operations like the fisheries in the Katse Dam. So far the Project has two Phases.

"Phase one comprises the Majestic Katse Dam standing at 185m high, the Muela Hydropower Station that generates 72MW of power for Lesotho, and the Mohale at 145m high. Water from Mohale Dam goes into the Katse Dam through a 32km tunnel, then another 45km tunnel takes the water from Katse Dam the Muela Hydropower station, and then into the Muela Dam and onto the Ash River in SA to Gauteng 780million cubic litres of water are transferred to SA every year as agreed and this year Lesotho will receive R800 million in Royalties"

Tlali says in 2014 Phase two was launched to build the Polihali dam in Mokhotlong.

“It is expected to increase water transfer to 1,27billion cubic litres on completion but it has not been without challenges.”

“A project of this magnitude and complexity, issues have to be agreed beforehand and there will always be challenges but as I speak now things are moving much faster and more smoothly and yes I agree that the project has been delayed but definitely by 2025 we believe very strongly that the water will be delivered,” says Tlali.

For now the project says it has enough water to meet its agreed annual supply for three years even if it does not rain.


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