Controversy continues to stalk the bilateral Lesotho Highlands water scheme because Lesotho’s new coalition government wants to scrap “prejudicial” sections of the country’s agreement with South Africa governing the construction of the proposed R9-billion Polihali dam.
The 1999 agreement, unearthed by the Lesotho Times last week, clearly reflects South Africa’s desire for greater control over the crucial infrastructural project, which supplies water to industrial and domestic consumers in Gauteng and beyond.
It was signed when the Lesotho government was almost paralysed and South African troops were still stationed in the kingdom after the invasion sponsored by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) a year earlier.
Sources in the Lesotho Cabinet told the Mail & Guardian last week that the government was uncomfortable with the agreement its predecessor had signed with South Africa on the second phase of the giant water project.
But Timothy Thahane, Lesotho’s water affairs minister, would only say that his government was studying the agreement and that it had not been ratified.
However, Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane told a media conference after meeting President Jacob Zuma in October that he had asked him to allow some aspects of the project to be reviewed.
Phase two will see the construction of Polihali Dam in Lesotho’s Mokhotlong district, which will augment the water in Lesotho’s Katse Dam, from where it will be channelled to the Vaal River.