In preparation for my trip to Lesotho in February I was told to keep in mind that the differences in lifestyles would be an instant shock to the system. “Wales is a developed country and Lesotho is a developing country,” we were told.
When the time came to farewell new friends after 11 humbling days in Hlotse I had discovered that, in so many ways, the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ labels had been totally misplaced.
The Basotho’s friendliness, kindness, generosity, happiness, willingness to break into song and dance whenever the feeling arose and eagerness to simply smile at everyone in the street proved that Wales is most definitely still a developing country…. by my definitions, at least.
Despite the whole week being packed with eye-opening and interesting things to do, one of the highlights was visiting the Katse Dam. At 185m tall it is Africa’s second tallest double curvature arch dam producing water on-demand for South Africa’s lowlands who so frequently suffer from drought.
During the pre-visit presentation I enquired as to the circumstances of the many farmlands and homes that were to be demolished prior to the dam’s opening – attempting to create parallels with Wales’ Tryweryn valley flooding in the 1960s.
According to the guide, each displaced person was offered an annual grant of cash (or the equivalent value in maize) and the company encouraged all effected to establish business cooperatives amongst themselves to ensure there was employment after losing their livelihoods. Many established trout fishing farms furter up the newly formed river and have done rather well for themselves.
What’s more, for Lesotho as a nation, the South African government pays around £6m per month (plus extra variable royalties based on calculated water usage benefits) to ensure their nation avoids the droughts that so often destroy lives.
In comparison to Tryweryn we see that, aside from (involuntary) rehoming, the residents of Capel Celyn and surrounding areas received nothing on this scale compared to the people of Katse. No annual payments and no cooperative schemes to rehabilitate those who lost family homes established centuries prior. One of the final monoglot Welsh-speaking villages left in Wales at the time gone without second thought.
The Lesotho government were in agreement that the 1996 project would be of benefit to both nations and their people – contrasting the total disregard by the British Government of the Welsh Government’s displeasure.
In addition, the Katse Botanical Gardens were established to rehome displaced plantlife and a visitor centre teaches children from all across Lesotho about hydroelectricity, renewable energy, ecosystems and cooperative business. Tryweryn got a white water rafting site.
Even in Switzerland, various cantons sell the surplus water they produce to other regions in the country for a modest profit. Wales, however, received no money for the money that leaves its boundaries.
As one who believes unequivocally that Wales will be a successful and welcoming independent nation, the fact that many disregard our potential because they believe Wales has nothing to offer standing on her own feet is incredible.
People talk of oil and infrastructure (which we actually already have) and a successful economy (not that our current overlords – who put us in our economic ‘mess’ – have a great one anyway) as keys to building an independent nation.
When we consider the potential of our natural resources one can only deduce that those not in support of Welsh dignity are either somehow misunderstanding our potential or are simply to scared to turn their back on the bullious status quo. There can be no other arguement.