So often really interesting tit bits of news are to be found not only tucked away on the inside pages of our newspapers but even at the very end of a lengthy article. I refer, in this instance, to the Voice (27.11.15) to its, Money Insert and to its report of Minister Mokaila’s statement to the recent Diamond Conference in Gaborone.
The report concluded with the Minister’s reminder that this country has made an agreement with Lesotho and South Africa to draw water from the Lesotho Highlands. ’After we conducted feasibility studies, we were satisfied that it was indeed feasible. The three countries came up with a Management Plan that has already been finalized.’ Botswana, he stated, ‘ will have a water pipe connecting from just outside Johannesburg to the Lobatse area.‘ There has been little enough information to date about this proposed pipeline, a mention here and there, if I am correct, and that has been about all. And now, all of a sudden, it all falls out. Admittedly the Minister would have had a problem dealing adequately with each of the many major topics on the table but the little that he told the conference is tantalizingly short on key detail. Consider. He states that the idea of a pipeline has been adjudged by those who know about such matters, to be feasible. That in itself is no big deal. Pay enough and it will never be difficult to find someone who will confirm that what is wanted is indeed possible. But hold it. The word used was ‘feasible’ and I have automatically equated that with ‘possible’. Am I correct? So a quick check with my Oxford Dictionary and I find, a little disturbingly, that feasible is defined as, ‘practicable, possible, easily or conveniently done’, which puts a different complexion on matters. No problem about ‘possible’ but ‘practicable’ raises a host of questions and ‘conveniently and easily done’ in respect of the pipeline is obviously absurd. In sum, we have learnt very little from that one sentence. So let’s take the other one about a management plan having been finalized – ‘finalized’ meaning ‘agreed’, I suppose. But agreed by whom? The National Assembly? Surely not. I am going to assume that for many of us it is a mind-boggling idea that a pipeline can be constructed from Lesotho to this country either through or around one of the largest urban mega centres in the world. What is the already agreed route of this pipeline? What is it length? What are the gradients? What are the identified problems that will need to be overcome? What are the land ownership issues that have been identified that will need to be settled and what is the amount that has been set aside for compensation payments? What are the terms of compensation that have been agreed – for owners of undeveloped land, for developed urban/industrial land?
What authorities, local, tribal and municipal have been identified as being necessary parties to the construction of the pipeline? Have they all been consulted and agreed? And on what terms? What thought has been given to the mass of legal issues which are bound to arise as one local community after another objects to the closure of a road, a school, a clinic as this pipeline is constructed? I am not going to assume that because we have made such a mess of one pipeline, we are bound to make a mess of another. But the complexities involved with a pipeline from Lesotho are so much greater than anything that has been attempted here. How does this pipeline find its way from Lesotho to that unidentified place, just outside Johannesburg’? And from there, what is its agreed route, not to Lobatse as geography dictates, where it can be fed into the national network, but curiously, to ‘somewhere near Lobatse” where perhaps it won’t. Or will it? How strange that there should be such imprecision. Of course there are any number of precedents for monster pipelines but those would have been constructed for high value gas and oil so that the pipelines paid for themselves. But where are the modern precedents for a relatively low value commodity such as water to be transported at great distances? But now this country has agreed with South Africa and Lesotho to carry water here from plentifully endowed Lesotho through so many water denied communities. The working principle is simple and brutal. Those with enough cash will get what water they want. Those who don’t, will have to do without. Yes, we need water – but in good conscience, is this our most sensible, practicable and morally right way of obtaining it? By report, the north-south carrier has been sabotaged on numerous occasions by individuals needing water. If that can happen here, how much more likely is it to happen there with our water - ours because we have paid for it- passing through communities which have none because they failed to do so. In such places, and there are bound