By:Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU- The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) has been embroiled in a territorial dispute over the land at Polihali in Mokhotlong.

This information came to light last week during the sitting of the parliament’s Natural Resources Portfolio Committee.

Refeela Holdings Pty Ltd Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mohapi Khofu said his company was issued a mining lease to mine quarry at Polihali in 2015, the area which later was allocated to the LHDA for the implementation of the Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP-II).

LHDA is the implementing agency of the LHWP.  The Phase II of the project includes the construction of major works consisting of Polihali Dam, water transfer tunnel and the associated access roads, bridges and other infrastructures.

According to LHDA, the implementation of Phase II requires at least the acquisition of about 5 000 hectares of land.

The Refeela Holdings mining lease was validated by the officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources. 

Khofu said he explored many avenues including meeting the previous Ministers- Samonyane Ntsekele (former Minister of Water) and Keketso Sello (former Minister of Mining) to intervene in their dispute with LHDA. Asked by the Committee if he had minutes or documented paperwork for these meetings, Khofu responded in the negative.

The CEO said recently he made a correspondence to the Minister of Natural Resources Hon Mohlomi Moleko to intervene. In his meetings with the Ministers, he said they said LHDA had to compensate him.

The mining lease period is 10 years and Khofu’s lease is due for expiry in 2025.

The Chief Legal Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources Advocate Mathealira Lerotholi said they are aware that Refeela Holdings was not operating as their demarcated area has been allocated to the LHDA which has since commenced their Phase II project.

For his part, LHDA Chief Executive Tente Tente pointed out that there are still talks to find a lasting solution over this issue with Refeela Holdings. He also told the Committee that the piece of land which the LHDA has occupied is not “big” adding that there is somewhere within Polihali area where they can give Refeela Holdings to undertake the quarry mining operations as per their license.

Tente said after securing the title deed of the piece of land where the construction of Polihali major works will be undertaken, they have regular meetings with the concerned stakeholders before they allocate land for other purposes so that they do not encroach on the land to be used for project construction.

She said the Ministry of Natural Resources had met LHDA and had signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to stop allocating land at the area in which the Phase II project will be constructed.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Committee through its Chairperson Hon Moeketsi Motšoane directed both parties- LHDA and Refeela Holdings to go back to the drawing board and find a solution along with other stakeholders. He also intimated to LHDA that it will have to compensate the complainant.

LHDA Chief Executive conceded that they had encroached on the Refeela’s territory but was quick to point out that it is not their fault, suggesting that the buck stops at local government that has issued the SDA on the already allocated piece of land.

These sentiments were also echoed by Gerard Mokone, Polihali Project Manager who said when the declaration of the scheme was made, they were not aware of any leaseholder over that area.

He said “When we were granted the scheme, we did not consult Refeela or any other party because we did not see any conflict then”.

He also mentioned that they learned about the plight of Refeela Holdings in March this year as of June 2020 that Refeela Holdings said they had sent letters to the Authority, most of their offices were closed due to COVID-19 pandemic and their administrative work was done remotely.

Khofu pointed a finger at LHDA accusing it of building infrastructure over the minerals that they had been legally allocated.

Also, a Committee member, Hon Thabiso Lekitla charged at LHDA for technically stopping Refeela Holdings from undertaking their mining operations, the accusations which the Authority denied.

“LHDA did not stop Refeela from carrying out their mining operations,” LHDA Chief Executive.