Lesotho: It’s all about the pokotho*

Christian Johannessen

Displaced by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project: Malethibela Lits’esane and her husband were forced from their highland village, Lamapong Ha Koporala, to another, Ha Makhalanyane. During the drought season, Malethibela has to walk for four to five hours to bring water back home. Photo: Christian Johannessen

As we noted in a previous post, Lesotho: A case study in sticking it to the poor, the World Commission on Dams estimates that in the past six decades, construction of large dams has displaced some 40-80 million people around the globe. The WorldWatch Institute, which focuses on sustainability on a global level, reports that

. . .the total number affected by such projects is far larger: IRN reports that millions more have lost land and homes to the canals, irrigation schemes, roads, power lines, and industrial developments that accompany dams, while others have lost access to clean water, food sources, and other natural resources in the dammed areas and downstream.

Our Lesotho: A case study. . . summarizes how Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), a dam development project that sequesters water from Lesotho’s highland rivers and delivers it to South Africa, has brought great hardship to the proud and once independent former inhabitants of the affected areas.

International Rivers, an organization that works “to protect rivers and communities that depend on them,” has a page devoted to this outrageous story. Their account is followed by some good and mostly current resources, including a link to a pdf report issued by the Transformation Resource Centre titled The Irony_of_the_White_Gold. The 62-page document contains interviews of displaced highland dwellers that vividly illustrate what it means to be wrenched from a cooperative, barter-based rural economy and thrust into a setting in which cash is king. The report’s introductory pages are not exactly gripping, but hang in there to read the interviews of hard-working people, whose peaceful and trusting nature has been used against them:

“I realize that we will be plagued by hunger because life here is mainly by the thing called pokotho*, that is money. Now, we find that we are lost because the money we had been promised has not been given to us. Even the money we were paid for our compensation has been reduced drastically. We found that we will end up living much more poorly than where we came from. There are some painful things about resettlement.”

–A villager resettled for LHWP

*Waterblogged.info’s crack team of linguists has yet to determine if pokotho means money. It looks as though the dominant language in Lesotho is Southern Sesotho, and that tjhelete (singular) and ditjhelete (plural) is the Sethoso word for money. The report cited above has a glossary that states that pokotho means pocket, and thus is sort of slang for money. The online Sesotho Dictionary doesn’t list pokotho. Hey, look it up yourself: Puo_ea_sechaba.

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