Lesotho, SA to ink deal on highlands water project

Lesotho and South Africa will sign an agreement for the feasibility study of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project at the Mohale Dam this week.

The agreement will be signed by Lesotho’s Minister of Natural Resources Mamphono Khaketla and South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Buyelwa Sonjica.

Phase two of the project entails the construction of the Mashai Dam between Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka districts, and the construction of a tunnel to link Mashai Dam to the Katse Dam—the central reservoir of the project.

The feasibility study of the second phase is expected to start in October 2005 and will take two years. Consult International, in partnership with Lesotho company Senqu Engineering, Environment and Development Consultants, will carry out the study.

Phase one of the project involved the construction of the Katse and Mohale dams,

their connecting tunnels and the construction of the Muela hydropower station. It was inaugurated by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki and King Letsie III of Lesotho on March 16, 2004.

According to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Treaty of 1986, South Africa is responsible for paying all water transfer-related costs, and Lesotho for hydroelectric power and ancillary development projects within Lesotho.

The project supplies water for industrial and domestic use to Gauteng.

Meanwhile, natural resources and water affairs ministers from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa will meet at the Mohale Dam on Thursday to discuss issues related to the Orange/Senqu River Commission.

The three countries benefit from the Orange/Senqu River that flows from Lesotho through South Africa, Botswana and Namibia where it spills into the Atlantic Ocean.

This will be the first time that the Orange/Senqu River Commission would meet since it was established in 2003.

The first phase of the project was dogged by controversy after a Canadian engineering firm, Acres International, was found guilty of bribing a top official.

The Lesotho High Court found in September 2002 that Acres International paid 681 316 Canadian dollars ($431 339) into Swiss bank accounts for the former head of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, Masupha Sole, between 1991 and 1998. - Sapa

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