“This project has been the dream of engineers since the 1940’s…  It will be a fundamental chain link in the continued growth of both Lesotho and South Africa, and in particular the industrial heartland of Gauteng.”

– Chris Viljoen, General Manager Major Civil Infrastructure Projects

Chris has been closely involved with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) since 1988. One of the world’s most successful regional water resources management schemes, the LHWP is both a technical marvel and a socio-economic feat. In 2006, the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) named the scheme the Most Outstanding Engineering Achievement of the Century.

Lesotho is a landlocked, mountainous country in southern Africa with an abundance of water. It is completely surrounded by South Africa – an economically much stronger but water scarce nation. Both countries signed a treaty in 1988 to establish the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – an ambitious scheme comprising a system of several large dams and tunnels throughout Lesotho that delivers water to the Vaal Dam in South Africa while generating hydroelectric power for Lesotho.

At inception, the LHWP was designed to include four phases which were to be implemented over a period of 30 years and expected to ultimately transfer about 70 cubic meters of water per second to the industrial province of Gauteng in South Africa. SMEC* has been involved with the design and construction of major works for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project since 1988 when designs for the Phase 1A Works commenced.

*through its subsidiary Vela VKE, renamed SMEC South Africa in 2012

The LHWP is expected to ultimately transfer about 70 cubic meters of water per second to the industrial province of Gauteng in South Africa.

The project has had tremendous impact on the communities of both nations. New surfaced roads infrastructure made access to the highlands possible for normal light and heavy vehicles. Power lines constructed to serve the major construction sites became the backbone of an electricity supply network. Schools and clinics constructed for the project became part of the expanding level of services being provided by government and aid agencies. Construction site infrastructure was handed over to the local authorities for use as housing, commercial and tourism related activities.

We are proud to be an integral part of Phase II, providing professional services for the design and construction supervision of the Polihali Transfer Tunnel, as part of the Metsi a Senqu-Khubelu Consultants Joint Venture (MSKC). This is a 38km transfer tunnel that will convey water from the Polihali to the Katse Dam.

In addition to the Katse Lake Tap and all associated infrastructure, SMEC and partners are also designing and supervising the construction of:

  • 8.3km of drill-and-blast tunnels
  • 34km of tunnel-boring-machine (TBM) tunnels
  • 230m of shaft sinking

“Alongside our technical expertise, training LHDA staff to operate and maintain the tunnel has become an integral part of our skills and technology transfer,” says Chris. “We are training young professionals on the ground to ensure the project will run effectively and efficiently for the communities it serves.”



SMEC is a global engineering, management and development consultancy delivering innovative solutions for our clients and partners. Leveraging our 70-year history of delivering nation-building infrastructure, we provide technical expertise and advanced engineering services to resolve complex challenges across the project lifecycle, from initial concept, feasibility, planning and design through to construction, commissioning, and operation and maintenance.

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