Basildon Peta Maseru

President Jacob Zuma has agreed to reinstate a deal with Maseru in which South Africa will finance a hydroelectric plant in Lesotho to boost electricity supplies to both countries.

South Africa will finance a new dam in Lesotho to drive the plant and also lift South Africa’s water supply in a R12 billion addition to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The plant will generate power of between 1 000 megawatts and 1 200MW.

Zuma’s decision to fund the new hydroelectric power station followed an impassioned appeal by Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, whom he met in South Africa last week.

Thabane confirmed the new deal with Zuma at a media briefing on Friday.

South Africa and Lesotho originally signed a treaty in 1986 for the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which included the construction of Katse and Mohale dams, which pump fresh water into the Vaal River to boost water supplies to Gauteng.

The agreement also included the construction of the Muela hydroelectric power station in Butha-Buthe, Lesotho, to boost Lesotho’s electricity supply.

Another power station was supposed to be built at Kobong under the second phase of the project at a cost of R7.6bn.

However, when the second phase agreement was signed between former Lesotho prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government and South Africa in 2011, Pretoria decided to exclude the second plant.

However, Thabane, who won power in May last year, revived the original deal when he met Zuma, who agreed that South Africa would build the second hydroelectric power station. The second phase also includes the construction of the R9.2bn Polihali dam in Mokhotlong to supply South Africa with water.

However, Lesotho officials said the new plant would no longer be built at Kobong in Leribe, as originally planned, but at Muela, Butha-Buthe, where the first one was built.

A tunnel several hundred kilometres long will join Polihali to Muela to deliver water to drive the power plant before the water is re-channelled to Katse Dam for delivery to South Africa.

“In this way, Lesotho will then not become a mere colony that supplies water to South Africa but will also extract a tangible benefit for its water exports,” said a Basotho official who attended Zuma and Thabane’s talks last week.

The new power plant at Muela will cover Lesotho’s power deficit, estimated at between 170MW and 200MW, leaving the bulk for Lesotho to sell to South Africa.

“The building of the dam [Polihali] and the building of the hydropower station will now be done at the same time,” Thabane said.

Construction is scheduled to start next year and end in 2018.

Both the dam and the power station were originally estimated to cost R16.8bn, with South Africa bankrolling the cost of the R9.2bn dam while also assisting with guarantees for the funding for the construction of the power station.

Sputnik Ratau, a spokesman for the Department of Water Affairs, said the estimated cost of the dam and power plant was now R12bn, all of which South Africa would finance. He was not sure why the estimate had fallen, but suggested this might be because the proposed plant would share some facilities with the existing one.

Thabane also managed to wrest greater control of the project for Lesotho. He said Zuma agreed that the projects would no longer be done by the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), a joint body between the two countries.

It would now be executed by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, which is directly under the Lesotho government’s control. However, South Africa will retain strong oversight through its representation in the LHWC, which will have more oversight powers.

Both countries’ energy ministers would now prepare the paperwork by the end of next month, Thabane said. – Independent Foreign Service