Lesotho Highlands Project

I first went to Lesotho back in 1995 to do anthropological fieldwork looking into the social impacts of large scale development projects and mega dams on local people.

Interested in the impacts on the local from the global, I wrote a paper looking into the relationships between International Donor organisations and local Village Development Committees in the Highlands of Lesotho within the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which had been established some years before between the Governments of South Africa and Lesotho. Its aim was to harvest Lesotho’s white gold, water, and transport it to the industrial heartland of neighbouring South Africa. There had been much promise about the increased possibilities of employment for re-trenched miners returning from their work in South Africa, owing to a downturn in the viability of the market in precious metals and diamonds. At the time of my first visit there were growing concerns around the issue of HIV and Aids, which had become a real problem, although at the time transmission rates were low, fears were beginning to grow in relation to the men returning from RSA where infection rates were high, as well as the large number of foreign workers attached to the LHWP and growth in sex trade activities around the projects labour camps. When I returned, HIV and Aids was running at around 20% of the adult population. Although transmission rates were high, some people put it down to witchcraft and were more likely to hide their symptoms than use the medical support they required, instead using the knowledge of local healers and taking medicines would help boost their immune systems. There was a large-scale Education project running at the time, which was having some positive effects.

I returned to Lesotho in 2001. This time to make a documentary, again looking at the impacts of  Dams on local people. The landscape around Katse Dam had changes in the intervening years. The biggest change, was the inundation. At the time, the process happened so fast that there were minor earthquake tremors in the aftermath, which required the creating of seismic activity warning stations along the outflow river valley. Whilst I wanted to make a film about these affects, I also learnt that the original social impact assessment, was too narrow in its scope. With a downstream impact running into millions of people, in Lesotho and neighbouring Republic of South Africa, there were many more people affect as a consequence of the change in water flow, affecting livestock, pasture, gardens, water collection and riverine plants. Many of these plants are used in healing practices and with the traditions of healers being tied to water and rivers, I was fortunate to work closely with these ‘Healers’ and make a film about their practices and daily life in a remote mountain village 5km from a mega dam. The subject of HIV and Aids also featured in the film. You can watch it below on this page.

Katse Dam was the first in a series of Mega Structure projects. In 2012, I returned on a field trip, where I travelled once again into the remote mountains and the images below were taken around Ha Mohale which I had visited in 1995.