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Moshoeshoe Airport upgrade reopens dispute over forced relocation, Lesotho

Residents of 15 villages surrounding Moshoeshoe Airport have banded together to protect their interests as the government plans to upgrade the facility. In 1982 villagers were forcibly evicted from their homes and fields to make way for the airport.


In 1982 local communities were forcibly relocated and their land expropriated, without compensation, to make way for Moshoeshoe I International Airport. This occurred while Lesotho’s constitution was suspended under the government of Joseph Leabau Jonathan, the second Prime Minister of the country. In June 2019 the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism reported that government plans to upgrade and expand the airport, at a cost of M5-billion (USD435 million), have reopened historical wounds in affected communities and raised fears of further land grabs. The upgrade plans include a 1 kilometer runway extension and construction of a new VIP terminal building. The project would utilize undeveloped land that lies outside the airport’s current perimeter fence but is part of the parcel of land expropriated 37 years ago. Residents of 15 villages surrounding the airport insist that all of the seized land still belongs to them and have banded together, forming a committee to protect their interests. Recalling the events of 1982 Tšeliso Moroke, the spokesperson of the villagers’ committee, recalled that his mother was pregnant and about to give birth “when a bulldozer driven by men in army uniforms demolished our homes and destroyed our possessions”. He said that residents of Moeaneng village knew that they faced relocation for the airport and expected to be moved to new houses. But his mother was one of many villagers who were placed in hurriedly erected shacks, built in a day from the ruins of their demolished houses. The shacks were weak and porous and often blew away in strong winds, so Moroke’s mother had to find refuge for herself and her newborn baby in a nearby village. Displaced people of Moeaneng village finally received government built houses three years later, in 1985, but most of them were just single room units built from raw breezeblocks. Moroke said the houses offered did not match what had been bulldozed; his parents lost a five-roomed house and a garage. The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism visited 11 affected households and found them in a sorry state. The houses were too small to accommodate basic domestic utilities. One villager said that they had toilets in the homes they had lost, but not in the new houses. Villagers also lamented the loss of fields which they said were grabbed by the government without compensation. Moroke said grabbing of fields that they owned continued even after a new democratically elected government took power in 1993; unknown people claiming to be government employees would enter cultivated fields and erect yellow poles without consulting them. Villagers also complained that land acquisition for the airport was skewed in favour of chiefs and the royal family, with the location of the perimeter fence altered to accommodate their interests and excluded from the airport layout. In 2009 villagers attempted to regain control of their fields, asking a lawyer to voice their complaints in a letter to the then Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili. The letter stated that “the dictatorship and oppressive regime of Mr Beabua Jonathan forcefully, wrongfully and unlawfully impounded the clients’ fields to build Moshoeshoe I International Airport”. Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe responded that “government could not be held accountable for things that happened a long time ago”. The villagers are demanding retrospective compensation for land taken from them in 1982 as their precondition for cooperating with the government and releasing additional land for the airport upgrade. The situation is complicated by the fact, even though they do not owning title deeds, villagers have sold some of the land for residential development. The area councillor, who is also a member of the Mohlakeng Community Land Distribution Committee, confirmed that villagers lack title deeds for land now owned by the airport. A meeting was held on 15th May 2019 for villagers affected by the airport upgrade. Moshoesheo Airport’s general manager, Letsoaka Sekonyela, warned residents against further construction on the disputed area and said the government would “engage those who have encroached on airport-reserved land” before the expansion project begins. He estimated that construction could start early in 2020. Senior officials have stated that a cabinet decision will be needed in order to decide how to handle the dispute.[1]

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Moshoeshoe Airport upgrade reopens dispute over forced relocation, Lesotho
State or province:Maseru District
Location of conflict:Mazenod Community Council
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Moshoeshoe I International Airport is located in the town of Mazenod 18 kilometers southeast of Maseru, Lesotho’s capital city. The government plan to upgrade the airport as reported in June 2019 includes a 1 kilometer runway extension, construction of a VIO terminal building, renovating the existing terminal building, installing navigation aids. The planned upgrade has been delayed for about three years. Road works to support the airport are also planned: construction of a four lane expressway at Thota-ea-Moli, rehabilitating Kofi Annan Road to the airport, upgrade of the perimeter, emergency and access roads. In addition there are plans to equip the 13.2 kilometer perimeter fence with an intruder detection system.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive projectUSD354,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1982
Relevant government actors:Government of Lesotho
Public Works and Transport
Mohlakeng Community Council Land Distribution Committee
Lesotho Defence Force
International and Finance InstitutionsKuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) from Kuwait - In February 2016 a loan agreement was signed whereby the Fund will loan USD15.3 million to assist in the financing of the Moshoeshoe I International Airport Improvement Project [2]
European Investment Bank (EIB) - In June 2019 the principal secretary in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Mothabathe Hlalele, said the EIB had pledged M1.2 billion (USD 85 million) for the planned upgrade of Moshoeshoe Airport [1]
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism -
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Villagers were forcibly evicted without compensation in 1982 to make way for Moshoeshoe I International Airport and were relocated in inadequate houses, initially hastily erected shacks then in one-room breezeblock houses. Evicted residents also lost cultivated fields. They are still demanding compensation as an airport upgrade project is planned. Residents of 15 villages have formed a committee to protect their interests and the airport general manager has said people living on land claimed by the airport will be engaged in the upgrade project.
Sources & Materials

[1] Big Lesotho airport upgrade opens old wounds, MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, 28 June 2019
[click to view]

[2] Signature of Loan Agreement for the Financing of Moshoeshoe I International Airport Improvement Project in the Kingdom of Lesotho, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, 22 February 2016
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:4329
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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