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A Lifetime of Unwavering Struggle for Portable Water Access

9 November 2023 by Pascalinah Kabi 

Monekoa Mokone (84) and his 70-year-old ‘Mamotebang Mokone narrate the struggle to access portable water in their Ha Makebe village. Credit: Pascalinah Kabi.

Monekoa Mokone, 84, slowly walks away from a kraal to join his wife, ‘Mamotebang, on the veranda of their house, exquisitely painted in purple.

The house, nestled in Ha Makebe village, is one of around 140 households that have never had access to portable water.

“My family collected water from two unprotected wells,” Mokone said.

These wells, he said, now fall within people’s residential areas after the area allocated encompassed those wells to Mokone’s neighbours.

Mokone’s family faces a significant challenge when it comes to accessing water. They need to walk approximately 30 minutes to reach a protected well and return home.

This situation raises concerns because the globally accepted standard for access to potable water is that the distance from any household to the nearest water source should not exceed 500 metres.

On average, it takes an individual 6-8 minutes to cover a 500-meter walking distance. Based on this calculation, Mokone’s family walks three times the internationally recommended maximum distance for accessing portable water.

“We are struggling to have water in our homes despite the fact that we are literally sitting on groundwater,” he said.

Only 30 percent of the urban population in Lesotho had access to drinking water in 2022.

Elusive Dream

‘Mamotebang Mokone, aged 70, first arrived in Ha Makebe in 1970 when she married Mokone.

She says collecting water from the protected well is not easy for her because of her age and the small hill she has to climb from the well to her house.

“On days when my grandchildren leave without collecting water for me, I take a two-litre bottle to go and collect because ten litres is too heavy for me, especially since I have to climb that small hill from the well,” ‘Mamotebang said in an interview with Uncensored News on 1 November 2023.

“I have no option but to collect water under those difficult circumstances,” she said.

In her younger days, ‘Mamotebang says her family never ran out of vegetables because she was able to collect water from this well for irrigation.

“I am tired because of my age, I am not sick but tired,” she said, adding that because of age exhaustion, she is no longer able to collect more water from the well.

On good days, the family pays young boys M10 to collect two buckets of 20 litres of water for them. These two buckets last only a day. The money comes from their pensions.

‘Mamotebang and her husband are convinced that their household, along with the entire Ha Makebe village, is situated above an unprecedented level of groundwater.

“Wells in nearby villages dry out during droughts, but we never experience that here because we are sitting on underground water. The water engineer once came here to test water availability and he told us there is too much water underground,” Mokone said.

“Even people from urban Maseru come here to collect water during droughts. We know for a fact that there is water underground because a water engineer once came to this village to help us bore water; he stayed here at my house. We do not know whether he was sent by the government or not, but he disappeared on us,” ‘Mamotebang said.


Disheartened by the government’s inability to construct a communal water tank at a closer proximity, the Mokone family deems it unjust that a water transmission pipe under the Greater Maseru Water Supply Project will pass through their village without a single drop of water becoming accessible to the Ha Makebe village.

“They called us for a public gathering over there and told us that water will just pass through our village.

“We told the chief that this will turn us into criminals because we are unable to collect water from that well, and now we do not understand why we cannot have access to the water that is going to pass through our village, which we can easily collect with a glass,” ‘Mamotebang said.

Sehlabeng is not covered – WASCO

Launched by former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro in June 2022, the Greater Maseru Water Supply Project is intended to supply this precious commodity to Ha Foso, Marabeng, Berea, Mabote, Tšenola, Tsautse, Qoaling, Ha ‘Masana, Ha Bosofo, and Ha Makhoathi villages.

Dr Majoro outlined that project costs totalled M505 million (US$30 million) from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC Fund), and the government of Lesotho.

On 1 November 2023, Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) public relations officer Lineo Moqasa told Uncensored News that project construction works were at an advanced stage.

“We are at the construction stage right now. The project is divided into three packages. The first package includes villages like Ha Makhoathi, Ha Bosofo, Mazenod, and Ha ‘Masana; package two includes villages like Ha Tsautse, Qoaling, and Ha Tšiame; and the third package includes Ha Mabote, Tšenola, Foso, Marabeng, and Berea,” Moqasa said.

She says the project details include a water transmission line from Ha Senegal to an existing WASCO reservoir situated at Lancers Gap. While the construction of a Makhoathi-Ha Fako distribution line has been completed, Moqasa says all villages in Sehlabeng-sa Thuoathe will not benefit from this project.

“The issue (that Sehlabeng people will not have access to this water) has been raised. The expectation is that there will be a project specifically for those places so that they can access to water. This is already being discussed to see which next project will include Sehlabeng,” Moqasa said.

This is despite the fact that the Ha Senegal transmission line will pass through Ha Makebe and many other villages in Sehlabeng-sa-Thuoathe.

The Greater Maseru Water Supply Project transmission line will be constructed along this Sehlabeng road. The contractor started dropping loads of sand, seen in this picture, ahead of the construction. Credit: Pascalinah Kabi.

A similar situation occurred almost a decade ago when transmission water pipes from Metolong Dam to several villages like Mazenod passed through the Ha Motloheloa village without leaving a single drop. Ha Motloheloa villagers vandalised the transmission line in search of water.

Moqasa says lessons learnt from the Metolong vandalism include the realisation that not providing water for communities that transmission lines pass through leaves a bad impression on people.

“But WASCO has been given a mandate to cover certain places, and as time goes on, what we have learned is that we should at least make provisions for the people in places we pass through to have access to water. This is because if that does not happen, there will be property vandalism and water wastage,” Moqasa said.

She said the issue of transmission pipes passing through villages without leaving a drop of water is not specific to Metolong or the Greater Maseru Water Supply Project.

“In Mapoteng, we collect water from very far from ‘Makaliso, but there are many places that our transmission pipelines pass through that do not have access to that water. So we learn that there has to be a provision for those people, even if it’s just a public standpipe,” Moqasa explained.

Moqasa says WASCO is on track to meet its set deadline to have the Greater Maseru Water Supply Project completed in July 2024.

However, one of the main challenges WASCO has encountered is the realisation that some people were left behind during the inception of this project, and the sewage company must now go back to those left behind.

“Some of these people showed fierce resistance when we told them that some pipes would pass through their land, but in collaboration with chiefs and councillors, we are seeing a decrease in the number of cases stemming from resistance,” she said.

Right to Water

In its latest Environment Report, the Bureau of Statistics refers to water as a “basic human need.” also, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that access to safe drinking water is a human right that must be respected by all governments.

About four years ago, a United Nations human rights expert, Léo Heller, said water and sanitation restrictions prevent Basotho from improving their lives.

“Ensuring access to water and sanitation is a preventive measure and a prerequisite for an adequate standard of living. In Lesotho, water, sanitation, and hygiene are drivers and multipliers of vulnerability, leading to a negative impact on human development,” Heller said at the end of his 2019 official visit to Lesotho.

Heller urged the Lesotho government to place water, sanitation, and hygiene high on its national development agenda and to use the human rights to water and sanitation as a framework to advance the development of its nation.

“Several gaps in access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene strongly impact the well-being and livelihoods of the Basotho people,” he said.

Mokone says his family is in a water crisis and that having access to portable water, by way of having a tap in his yard, will make his life easy.

“If they were to place a pipe within the village to enable every household to have its own water tap, we would have it easy. My household would never run out of vegetables, and we would never have to buy vegetables from town,” Mokone said.

Meanwhile, a 2017 study that examined Water Security and the Right to Water in Southern Africa suggests that this issue extends beyond individual families or countries—it’s a broader problem affecting many communities across Southern Africa.

Drawing on case studies from South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the study indicates that, while there are advantages to enshrining the right to water as a fundamental right in a country’s constitution, courts are still capable of interpreting the right to water within existing rights, particularly the right to life.

“However, reading in has its own limitations, including that courts sometimes leave hanging/unpronounced government duties/responsibilities where the right to water is not provided for, as was the case in Mosetlhanyane.

“A concession was made that constitutionalising the right to water is not necessarily a guarantee that water security will be achieved. However, it is evident that water security, so far as it relates to access and quality, is perhaps more certain for the well-to-do than it is for poorer communities. It is for such reasons that the constitutional right to water could be useful.

“The right could provide opportunities for the poor and vulnerable to challenge governmental actions and decisions in relation to water services. In other words, governments could be held accountable, and responsibilities could be given to authorities based on constitutional rights,” reads the study.

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