“She could probably eat an apple through a tennis racket”.
When I was young, I recall seeing someone on TV with a very large mouth and buck teeth, my grandmother primly remarked that “she could probably eat an apple through a tennis racket”.
As a result, I will always associate my Granny with apples, even though her surname wasn’t Smith.
She had a wonderful set of pearly teeth and although I didn’t realise it at the time, these were probably dentures, but I thought it was because of her love of apples. Another of her favourite quips was ‘an apple a day will keep the doctor and dentist away’.
However sadly, it is not apples that keep the dentist away in Lesotho.
I am always fascinated by the exceptionally perfect smiles seen everywhere in Lesotho. To me this is such a distinguishing feature of the Basotho people, it should be up there with Maletsunyana Falls and the Sani Pass as a tourist attraction.
Despite having very limited medical facilities, at the last count it was allegedly one doctor per 20 000 people, their low sugar diet may account for their healthy teeth and shining smiles.
Lesotho’s lack of medical facilities goes hand in hand with the fact that they had the highest unemployment rate in the world in 2018.
However, despite these gloomy statistics, hope looms on the horizon for this friendly little country. This specific horizon lies within the glorious mountains surrounding Mokhotlong which is the site for the construction of the new Polihali Dam.
LHWP implementing body Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) CEO Refiloe Tlali says:
‘……the 2.3-billion cubic metre Polihali dam will be built downstream of the confluence of the Senqu and Khubelu rivers. The dam will have a 163.5-m-high concrete-faced rockfill embankment dam wall. The crest length will be 915 m, with a full supply level of 2 075 m above sea level. A 49.5-m-high saddle dam and spillway will also be built…
This entailed the construction of more than 1 300 beacons to mark the 230 km perimeter of the reservoir.
Polihali to Katse tunnel
The estimated 38-km-long, nominal bore 5-m-diameter Polihali–Katse dam tunnel will be constructed to transfer water from the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir..
Sceptics are jumping on their soap boxes and lamenting that the Polihali Dam will displace 17 villages and reduce agricultural lands for an additional 71 villages. It is perhaps prudent to consider that it will also supply at least 3000 much needed chances of employment in the Highlands.
Phase 2 is well on its way with tenders having been awarded and little bands of archeologists and architects are already moving into remote camps in the area.
Lesotho Mokhotlong – site of the Polihali Dam
Approximately 50 km’s from this site lies the small homestead that we visit on the Sani Pass Day Tour.
Here Lipilelo lives with her twins, aged 2, in an impeccably clean and humble stone hut. On the left of the hut is another dwelling which houses recently hatched chickens and goat kids. Goats, sheep and rams are sheltered in an adjoining fenced area.
Lipilelo is a lovely, quiet lady who bears the daily challenges of survival with dignity and good humour. The twins are often the highlight of this tour as they chase chickens in and out of the huts.
Recently one of the guests, charmed by the antics of the twins fetched two apples from the touring vehicle and presented one to each child. Having never seen apples before they had no idea what to do with them.
The little boy was delighted that he had received a ball and threw it at his sister. She in turn concentrated on rolling her apple around the neatly swept yard. It was only when Lipilelo bit into the apple and handed it back to them that they realised it was something to eat. When we left, their little mouths were still stuffed with fruit.
The construction of the Polihali dam will open many more opportunities for people such as Lipolelo and her twins.
With an improvement in economic conditions perhaps their children will always know the taste of apples.