By Neo Kolane
The community of Ha Peete in Quthing district are threatening to resist moves by the authorities to a rehabilitate a multi-million maloti wetland around Letšeng-la-Letsie as long as they are not involved in the planning.
The M900 million project is funded by the government of Lesotho, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Opec Fund for International Development, and Food and Agricultural Organisation.
It seems the tug-of-war between the community of Ha Peete and the government as an implementing arm under the Ramsar Convention is not coming to an end soon when it comes to the wetland.
Letšeng-la-Letsie is of global importance due to its role in regulating water regimes and habitat supporting special wildlife, especially water-birds which provide a reliable indicator of the health of wetlands.
It is also the source of Quthing River, one of the tributaries of the great Senqu River, which courses through three countries; Lesotho, South Africa and Namibia.
Letṧeng-la-Letsie is Lesotho’s only Ramsar site since 2004 and sits on a 434-hectare catchment area. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.
The treaty seeks to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands, as well as recognise their fundamental ecological functions and economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value.
The Convention is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where it was signed in 1971.
However, the lake has now degenerated into a huge mass of mud with discoloured water and an abundance of algae and weeds.
The defence, national security and environment ministry is on the cusp of implementing the Regeneration of Landscapes and Livelihoods (ROLL) project at Letṧeng- la-Letsie. Its objective is to ensure that rural communities adopt transformational practices for renegated landscapes, and sustainable livelihoods leading to improved nutrition and adaptation to climate change.
A seething Chief ‘Mathesele Nkuebe of Ha Peete says a team of officials from the ministry of defence, national defence, and environment, visited the place three weeks ago to inform the community about plans to conserve Letṧeng- la-Letsie.
Nkuebe told theReporter last week that she advised the team to engage her community and solicit their views and input instead of imposing their plans on the people, like a previous project had done.
“This lake and the mere mention of the word ‘Ramsar’ have proved to be a source of great anguish. Some non-Sesotho speaking people came here recently and told us about this Ramsar, and their plans to conserve our lake.”
Following this visit, Nkuebe is convinced the ROLL project, too, is doomed to fail because it does not have the buy-in of the people and does not take their needs into consideration.
She went on to reminisce on the fiasco of the early 2000s. “We did not understand exactly what that conservation entailed, but many things changed afterwards.”
Nkuebe alleged that herders are often assaulted by armed soldiers when they pass through Letṧeng-la-Letsie on their way to their cattle posts.
For ages, herders used to graze their livestock on the base of the nearby mountain, with the wetland providing both healthy vegetation and abundant water for the animals, but after the visit livestock are impounded if caught grazing there.
“As chiefs around Letṧeng-la-Letsie, all we have been hearing is that there are people who are responsible for the lake but we keep asking ourselves why they live abroad.
“Experience has taught us that nothing that comes out of these political officers ever materialises,” she added.
Nkuebe further argued that Letṧeng-la-Letsie has been there for as long as she can remember and the community always looked after it in its own way.
She blamed the authorities for the lake’s present state because they chose to do as they pleased and shoved the villagers aside.
“Just because they are educated, they come to our place and treat us with disdain. We are not impressed with that,” Nkuebe said.
Her sentiments were echoed by Ha Peete councillor Karabo Lesala, who confirmed that the community is already sceptical about the planned ROLL project, because of the disappointment they suffered with previous projects.
However, Lesala confirmed that the team from the ministry of defence, national security and environment engaged the community to inform them of the project through a public gathering.
“The team spoke to the villagers, wanting to hear their views on what could be done to ensure the lake continues to exist and benefit them,” he said. On his part, the knowledge management and learning officer from the ministry of defence, national security and environment, Tṧita Tṧita, said there was no way they could.