photo of person from Lesotho the maluti mountains
community activities
culture and customs
employment and income
environmental knowledge
family life
justice and crime
livelihood strategies
social change
social institutions
social relationships
spiritual beliefs



introducing the area

 the themes
 the partners
 the testimonies

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Lesotho is the only country in the world with all its territory above 1000 metres. Entirely surrounded by South Africa, it is situated at the highest point of the Drakensberg escarpment on the eastern rim of the South African plateau. Lesotho is also one of the world's poorest nations: cultivable land is scarce, mineral resources limited, and the country's most precious resource is water. Indeed, the mountains in Lesotho form Southern Africa's most important watershed - which is why one of the world's largest and most complex engineering projects is taking place in one of its most impoverished regions. The billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) involves the construction of a series of tunnels and dams to take water from Lesotho's Senqu/Orange River to South Africa's industrial heartland, Gauteng province. In return, Lesotho receives royalties from the sale of its water, and some hydroelectric power.

mountain village in LesothoThese testimonies were gathered from several villages in the Molika-liko area (see map). All the narrators have now been relocated, but in their interviews they describe mountain life as they experienced it then. Agriculture and livestock formed the mainstay of their existence, but until recently most of the men spent significant periods of time as migrant labour in the South African mines. This was virtually the only option available to anyone wanting to earn cash. Several months after the last interview was gathered, the villagers were moved away from their mountain valley. The area is to disappear under the waters of the huge Mohale reservoir, together with their houses, fields, graveyards, grazing land and other private and communal resources.

the themes

one of the narrators in LesothoThe narrators describe a way of life that for generations has altered relatively little. The most significant forces for change in recent times have been increasing exposure to the monetary economy, and the advent of the road, precursor to relocation and built as part of the massive Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Agriculture, which allowed a reasonable degree of self-sufficiency, is a dominant theme, as are social institutions and the networks of mutual help and support that the community has relied on and takes pride in. In the face of imminent resettlement - some to lowlands and semi-urban areas; some to other highland communities - people talk of their feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability, their distrust of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) - the body responsible for implementing resettlement - and their fears for the future. The knowledge that their way of life was to change for ever may have led some narrators to romanticise their current existence, but others acknowledge tensions and dissension within and between communities. Some narrators, too, talk of how social relations and attitudes were already undergoing change, and not always just along generational lines.

men and horse in lesothoNot surprisingly, however, the most common cause of anxiety in these accounts is loss of self-sufficiency. Many express foreboding as to how losing their land will affect them not just in terms of livelihood, but also self-esteem. Most of the men's experience of working in the South African mines has made them wary of the dependence generated by being a wage labourer, and of the finite nature of money. Mountain life might be frugal but with land, they felt, they always had a productive resource - and a crucial degree of self-reliance. They speak with pride of their environmental knowledge and how it has enabled them to adapt and survive in a harsh landscape. But they also know that it is precisely the specialist nature of their knowledge - living in an area where each valley is distinguished by variations of climate, soil and vegetation - which may render them at a loss when they move elsewhere in the highlands. And for those moving to urban areas, such skills are all but redundant.

the partners

The interviews were gathered between November 1997 and February 1998, with the help of local NGOs the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and Lesotho Highlands Church Action Group. The project was coordinated by Dr Motlatsi Thabane, of the Department of History, National University of Lesotho.

All narrators received illustrated copies of their interviews in Sesotho and English. In 2001 and 2002 TRC, with Panos, continued to gather interviews with the villagers, in order to gain greater understanding of their experiences in their new locations, several years after resettlement. In 2004 The Irony of the “White Gold” was published in Sesotho and English, based on these first-hand accounts. The booklet was part of a programme of activities that have raised awareness of the varied experiences of those affected by the LHWP, empowered them to lobby for their rights and, with TRC, gain some reforms to LHDA’s policies.


Local language booklet (Sesotho):
Sehou Mehloling ea Lesotho
> Download booklet (pdf, 4.47 mb)

Voices from the mountain: Lesotho

A selection of oral testimonies from an area subsequently submerged by the Mohale dam
> Download booklet (pdf, 934 kb)


the testimonies

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Lipholo   male/67   farmer/basketmaker   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   10   ’Malebohang   female/64   farmer   Ha Lekhera  
Summary Transcript   11   Mokete   male/64   farmer   Ha Ralifate  
Summary Transcript   12   Maseipati   female/elderly   farmer   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   13   Tokiso   male/36   farmer/repairs radios   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   14   Mohlominyane   male/61   farmer/village headman   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   14B   Mohlominyane   male/61   farmer/village headman   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   15   Tsatsi   male/70s   farmer   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   16   Moleleki   male/41   farmer   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   17   Sebili   male/46   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   17B   Sebili   male/46   farmer   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   18   Mathabo   female/48   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   19   Nathnael   male/61   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   19b   Nathnael   male/61   farmer   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   2   Thabang   male/57   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   20   Motseki   male/    farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   21   ’Mepa   male/50s   farmer/chief   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   22   Mamookho   female/30s   farmer/garment maker   Ha Koporale  
Summary Transcript   23   ’Manthatisi   female/38   farmer   Ha Koporala  
Summary Transcript   24   Khethisa   Male/40   lethuela (traditional doctor)   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   25   Thabo   male/   farmer   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   26   ’Mampaleng   female/78   L   Ha ’Mamokoluoa  
Summary Transcript   27   Tanki   male/72   farmer   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   3   Makibinyane   male/40s   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   4   Tekenyane   male/74   farmer   Molika-liko  
Summary Transcript   5   Matefo   female/19   farmer   Ha Ntsi  
Summary Transcript   6   Lebeko, and   male and female/L   chief and chieftainess   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   7   Tlali   male/elderly   farmer   Ha Tsapane  
Summary Transcript   8   Laurent   male/47   farmer   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   8b   Laurent   male/47   farmer   Maetsisa  
Summary Transcript   9   ’Malibuseng   female/32   farmer   Ha Tsapane