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Water Treaty has not been violated



THE Lesotho Youth Leagues Forum (LYLF) has recently clashed with the government of Lesotho over the non-inclusion of hydropower generation at Polihali Dam.

The youth forum says it is not convinced by the government’s statements that it has plans to generate electricity and that the 1986 Treaty between Lesotho and South Africa has not been violated.

On the other hand, the Senate Petitions Committee wants thorough investigations into the youth forum’s concerns.

On Tuesday thepost’s Caswell Tlali spoke to Water Affairs Principal Secretary Khomoatsana Tau over the issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.


The Youth League Forum says the agreement between Lesotho and South Africa does not favour Lesotho in that the construction of Polihali Dam will not be done together with the Kobong electricity pump station. What is the government’s response to this?

First of all, we must understand the Lesotho Highlands Water Project so that we can be able to say whether the said agreement favours Lesotho or not. South Africa had a need and that need was urgent. It needed water and when it looked around under their project called Orange Vaal Transfer Scheme (OVTS) it found no place that was cheap to get water from. So, Lesotho was approached because it is cheaper to get water from Lesotho. It was agreed that the two countries would share the cost savings, that is the saved money from changing the source of water from South Africa to Lesotho. The agreement was that Lesotho would get 56 percent of the cost savings while South Africa would get the remaining 44. So, we can safely say in that regard the agreement is in favour of Lesotho. In the 1986 Treaty that cost saving is called benefit and it comes to us in the form of royalties.

That is in the Phase I of the Treaty. The Youth Leagues Forum’s complaint is that the Phase II agreement is skewed in favour of South Africa and that it leaves the component of power generation for Lesotho, which is a violation of the 1986 Treaty.

Nowhere is the Treaty violated. It is common knowledge that the Treaty says while South Africa shall get water from Lesotho, that water will also generate electricity for Lesotho. Under the Phase I of the project, water from Katse Dam is tunnelled to ’Muela where we have hydropower generation before that water passes to South Africa. All dams under the Phase I end up being tunnelled to ’Muela where we generate electricity. It has to be known also that the plan is still the same under the second phase. Water from Polihali will still be tunnelled to Katse Dam and from there it will be tunnelled to ’Muela where it will be used to generate electricity for us. That is what the Treaty says, that we should generate electricity for Lesotho. The two main components of Phase I under the Treaty were transporting water to South Africa and at the same time generating power for Lesotho. It is still the same under the second phase of the project. All dams under any phase will go to Katse Dam and water will be delivered to South Africa from there and in the process generate electricity for Lesotho at ’Muela.

But the argument is that the Treaty has been violated because the original plan was the construction of Mashai and not Polihali.

It is true that Mashai is mentioned in the Treaty. However, there is much that we have to understand so that we can avoid misinterpreting the Treaty. I say construction of Polihali Dam is not violating the Treaty. We are still within the confines of the Treaty. The Phase II agreement follows the treaty. It started with the feasibility study but was called pre-commitment study because at that time South Africa had said it no longer needed the amount of water it said it would need. So, South Africa did not want to commit itself with the Phase II as it was originally expected when the Treaty was signed in 1986. It was quickly decided by the two countries that, still working within the confines of the Treaty, the alternative dam should be found. That was how the idea of building a dam at Mashai was dumped. We have to (remember) that the Treaty committed the two governments to the Phase I only. It says implementation of further phases is subject to an agreement between the parties. So, it is in harmony with the Treaty that the two countries agreed to move the project to Polihali under the Phase II.

Why would you say that the construction of Polihali Dam will not benefit South Africa more than it benefits Lesotho?

Let us start with its feasibility study. It was agreed at that time that the funding of the study would be equally shared. Also there would be engineers appointed by Lesotho and those appointed by South Africa. It was agreed that the engineers would work together as a team. No party was doing its own component as some people say. The purpose was and still is water transfer to South Africa and power generation for Lesotho. The study was feasible. It was found that it was cost effective to do the Phase II atPolihali than at Mashai. It may be an honest concern that the treaty was violated by removing the implementation of Phase II from Mashai toPolihali but the fact is, in the circumstances, we are still operating within the Treaty and it is the same Treaty that provides for the shift of the original plan as we have done. The Treaty says the project shall be implemented by way of any or all of the phases described on Annexure 1 or such additional phases as may be required to deliver 70 cubic metres of water per second, provided that any phase described in Annexure 1 may be modified by agreement between the parties. What is detailed in Annexure 1 in this case was Mashai and has been modified by agreement. Where have we broken the law?

What is important is to know how the shifting from Mashai to Polihali is going to benefit Lesotho.

The project as a whole is feasible and its main component is Polihali Dam which will be 165 metres, the 38 kilometre-tunnel joining Polihali with Katse Dam, the hydropower component that we can build. At first we wanted to build a second water delivery tunnel from Katse Dam that would be parallel with this current one to ’Muela. We understood that it would give us additional 80megawatts of power. At the same time we thought of another delivery tunnel not to Katse but from Polihali still passing through ’Muela to generate additional electricity. Then South Africa said to us: Let us be honest with you, we are not in need of that much water at present and therefore we are not going to help finance that project. We can only finance 38 kilometres of the tunnel as agreed and the rest you will see for yourselves. Furthermore, we might need the amount of water that will generate the amount of electricity you want after some 20 years. We realised as Lesotho that building that tunnel would be costly to us. We would have built a tunnel that would require to be maintained and for the next 20 years it would not generate any electricity for us. So, in the interests of Lesotho we decided to go on with the construction of Polihali Dam and also build a hydropower station at Kobong so that the original purpose of power generation would not be lost. Lesotho will build a pump storage at Kobong. Technically Kobong is feasible.

Another concern is that electricity from Kobong will be so much that it will exceed our demand. The question is who will buy it because South Africa is said to have told you that it is not prepared to buy electricity from Lesotho? 

I don’t know of any such statement from South Africa. You know that many times South Africa suffers power cuts. Is that not enough to show that we can sell them electricity? SADC countries are interconnected, that is why we are currently buying electricity from Mozambique. So, we have seen that our electricity can be sold to other countries like DRC. I think many countries need electricity and we are assured of the market. We do not rule out South Africa as one of our potential big customers.

What can you say about concerns that the geotechnical study, market study, powerline feasibility study and other feasibility studies are not yet complete or are totally not done?

It is true. Many studies are underway but that does not mean that the project is a failure. I want to tell you that even for Katse Dam itself there are some studies that are being done now, many years after it was completed.

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