In a historic move aimed at solidifying their long-standing partnership, South Africa and Lesotho have elevated their bilateral relations by transforming the Joint Bilateral Commission of Cooperation into a Bi-National Commission. This significant development was announced by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during the inauguration of the Inaugural Lesotho-South Africa Bi-National Commission, held at the prestigious OR Tambo Building in Tshwane on Thursday. The event witnessed the presence of Lesotho’s Prime Minister Ntsokoane Samuel Matekane, signifying the joint commitment of both nations to strengthen their cooperation. This transformation of bilateral ties had been set in motion with the signing of an agreement in November 2021, effectively upgrading the structured bilateral mechanism from a Joint Bilateral Commission of Cooperation, which was held at the ministerial level, to a Bi-National Commission that will be presided over by the two Heads of State and Government.
President Ramaphosa, in his address, emphasized the significance of this move, characterizing it as a testament to the unwavering commitment of both nations to enhance their relations for mutual benefit. He stated, “South Africa attaches great importance to its bilateral relations and cooperation with the Kingdom of Lesotho. Our relationship is anchored in historic bonds of language, culture, and heritage.” One of the key areas of cooperation highlighted by President Ramaphosa was in the fields of water and energy security, with a special focus on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The LHWP, a monumental initiative, is designed to provide water to South Africa’s Gauteng province and generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. While the first phase of the project was successfully completed in 2003 and commissioned a year later, the second phase is currently underway.
President Ramaphosa expressed South Africa’s readiness to collaborate with Lesotho in addressing any challenges that may arise during the project’s implementation. He noted, “The Lesotho Highlands Water Project also contributes to job creation in Lesotho and the construction of new roads, bringing access to previously inaccessible areas of Lesotho.” He further revealed that both South Africa and Lesotho were working closely with mining company Harmony Gold to devise strategies for retrieving the bodies of dozens of illegal miners from Lesotho who lost their lives in a methane gas explosion at an abandoned mine in Welkom in May. Illegal mining has been on the rise in South Africa, involving thousands of individuals either directly or indirectly, according to the South Africa Minerals Council. The Council has attributed the widespread nature of this activity to a combination of a challenging socio-economic climate and limited resources available to law enforcement agencies.
As South Africa and Lesotho embark on this new phase of their bilateral relations, the elevation of their cooperation to a Bi-National Commission signifies a deepened commitment to mutual growth and prosperity. This historic move is expected to further strengthen the historic ties that bind these two nations together, while also addressing crucial issues such as water security, energy generation, and the challenges posed by illegal mining activities.