The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has underlined the strategic importance of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) for the socio-economic prospects of both Lesotho and South Africa.
The committee made the remarks, as it concludes its week-long oversight visit to the LHWP.
Committee Chairperson Machwene Semenya said the purpose of the oversight visit was to assess progress on the project, challenges and strengthen oversight over the project, and also meet the Lesotho committee responsible for water.
“The committee felt it was necessary for its oversight work to visit Lesotho and assess progress, especially considering the economic importance of the project to the sustainability of Gauteng, which is our country’s economic hub and seat of the executive,” said Committee Chairperson, Machwene Semenya in a statement on Monday.
The LHWP is a bi-national water transfer and hydroelectricity generation project between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa, established through a treaty signed in 1986.
The project generates hydroelectricity for the sole benefit of Lesotho citizens, while water is transferred to meet the water needs of South Africans. It satisfies 60% of Gauteng’s water demand.
The project is a flagship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Revised Protocol, which is premised on regional economic integration for peace and prosperity. It is a water and energy security bilateral agreement.
It also enables South Africa to meet some of its international commitments, including global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly six which concerns the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, as it involves the implementation of the integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation.
Another such commitment is the African Union Agenda 2063 on Socio-Economic Integration pertaining to trade and the movement of people.
As part of its programme, Semenya said the committee met with the Natural Resources Cluster Committee of the National Assembly of Lesotho, where they focussed on oversight of the LHWP and its benefits to both countries.
The committees agreed on a collaborative oversight effort over the project to ensure the maximisation of benefits of the project for both countries, and also to share knowledge and learn from each other going forward.
“The meeting recommended that the Treaty between Lesotho and South Africa needs to be reviewed in its entirety, as the 2011 amendment only focussed on Phase 2 of the project and does not cater for the current state of affairs in both countries. Above all, the joint committees concurred that the LHWP is too important to fail.
“The committee received briefings from the South African High Commission, the Lesotho Highlands Water Authority and the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission.
“It also visited Katse and Polihali (under construction) dams and the Muela Hydropower Plant. The committee was impressed with the quality of the dam and associated structures and the overall management and operations of the LHWP,” Semenya said.
Despite the success of the LHWP, the committee however, identified various challenges needing urgent attention from both countries.
These include compensation of resettled communities; capacity-building and skills transfer between the two countries; and funding of the project.
“Nevertheless, the project implementers assured the delegation that these challenges are not insurmountable with plans already in place to arrest them. The committee has emphasised the need to speed up implementation of phase 2 of the project to ensure that both countries explore maximum benefits from the project.
“The committee resolved that it would assist by collaborating with its Lesotho counterparts on conducting oversight and amending laws, and advocating for improved funding allocations where necessary,” Semenya said.