The embankment of the Mohale Dam
The Mohale Dam in Lesotho (File/Getty Images)
  • There are still no agreements on funding of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – and that is "getting more urgent", the agency supposed to implement it warns.
  • The project is critical to secure enough water for Gauteng.
  • The Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority is looking for some R60 billion to pay for must-have water schemes, at a time when money is scarce and fewer South Africans are paying for the water they use.
  • In the Western Cape, good rains and full dams have led to "complacency", the Authority says.
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There are still no agreements around the funding of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) – which is supposed to deliver it – warned in an annual report release on Tuesday.

And that "is getting more urgent" now, says CEO Percy Sechemane, with the Polihali Dam and a related tunnel at the stage where contracts can be awarded.

Before a new round of delays, major construction on Polihali had been due to start in February 2020 – though it had initially been earmarked for completion by 2020. The delays could lead to "calamitous water restrictions until at least 2026" for Gauteng.

The TCTA was set up in 1986 to fund and build the original phase of Lesotho Highlands, and the second phase is its flagship project. But its mandate has since been expanded considerably, and in the near future it will be seeking a total of some R60 billion to build must-have water schemes in various parts of the country.

One such project is the Berg River Voelvlei Augmentation Scheme in the Western Cape, a 6.3-kilometre pipeline that has been considered urgent since 2017. But no decision has yet been taken on who will pay for it, said TCTA chairperson Gerald Dumas in the annual report.

"Given that the Western Cape has just emerged from one of the most severe droughts on record, it would have thought that the resolution of the issues would have been a major priority for all the stakeholders in the area. But the good rains, with dams overflowing has quickly led to a sense of complacency, instead of taking advantage of the situation to ensure the Western Cape is better prepared for the next drought."

The TCTA relies on clawing back money from the ultimate users of water, often via municipalities – and on a steady flow of such payments to convince lenders to give it money. But non-payment by users and municipalities, already at high levels, are expected to continue climbing due to the financial pressures all around caused by the coronavirus and associated lockdowns.

Lenders now want to see "some form of government guarantee", the TCTA says – but that is still being negotiated.

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