A multibillion rand water project, unveiled in Maseru this week by the South African and Lesotho governments, could be the answer to the water challenges facing South Africa, authorities said.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and her Lesotho counterpart, Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki, launched Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project on Thursday, exactly a year ago after President Jacob Zuma urged the Lesotho government to speed up the process.
Described as a milestone by both governments, the initiative was established by a treaty signed between the two countries in 1986 to stimulate growth and economic development through water resources development projects.
Being a huge task for the small kingdom, the project is being carried out in phases, with Phase 1A having comprised the Katse and Muela dams, as well as water transfer tunnels. This phase was implemented between 1990 and 1998 and is in full operation.
Phase 1B consists essentially of the Mohale Dam, Mohale Tunnel and Matsoku Tunnel and Weir.
Phase one of the project saw the construction of the Katse Dam, which will now culminate in another creation of a massive dam wall that will divert the flow of water through tunnels to South Africa.
Phase two, launched on Thursday, includes the construction of a 165m3 capacity dam at Polihali in the Mohotlong district. It will consist of two major reservoirs enclosed by a 145m high dam, one of the largest on the continent.
Apart from stimulating economic growth in the two countries, officials said the water will meet the industrial and domestic water needs of Gauteng, while simultaneously generating hydropower for Lesotho. Construction is expected to start in 2012, with water transfer estimated to begin in late 2018.
“We believe that this is a project, as big as it is, if it is delivered on time, it will deliver the goods as it should,” said Molewa at the signing ceremony in Katse Village, about 100km from the capital Maseru.
She described the agreement as confirming the “long time” economic cooperation that had existed between Lesotho and South Africa, adding that the project will go a long way in addressing the economic needs of both countries.
She said steps were also being taken to ensure that communities and the small business sector from both countries benefit from the project with Moleleki, saying Maseru stood to attract about R1.5 billion annually from the scheme.
The planned 1200 MW hydropower plant, which will eventually produce more than 1000 MW of electricity, will also allow Eskom South Africa’s Energy monopoly to access this power from Lesotho in a deal to be signed by the power utility and that country’s officials.
Cabinet has approved both projects, with President Zuma and the Prime Minister of Lesotho having given a go ahead for its implementation at a meeting in Maseru last year.
Moleleki added that the agreement will not only focus on hydropower, but will see both countries exploring other alternatives such as renewable energy, including solar and wind power.
Analysts have said South Africa faces a water crisis and could start having critical shortages as
early as 2020. Also, despite service delivery efforts made since 1994, the availability of water is very unequal in most parts of the country, with a considerable part of the population still without access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
Authorities say it is the dwindling water supplies in the country that had forced Tshwane to look elsewhere for this resource.
Lesotho, on the other hand, remains one of the least developed countries in the world with no major natural resources except for water, of which it consumes less than 6% domestically.
“Much has been said about development but in South Africa, we forget that we are a water scarce country that needs this resource urgently to address our growth needs and Lesotho is providing that opportunity to us. This does not only strengthen our relations with our neighbours, but will ensure that we have enough water for the future, something which is very crucial to us,” said Molewa.
Savings realised from the success of the project have been split between the two countries with a majority percentage being allocated to Lesotho in the form of royalties from South Africa. These payments are estimated to average at approximately R7 billion over the next few years.