Pelaneng airstrip - now abandoned - Maluti Mountains, Lesotho, southern Africa.

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Regular Member
May 14, 2018
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In 1971 I was involved in the survey for the southern Africa Lesotho Highlands Water Project, a scheme to build a hydro-electric dam (the Katse Dam) in the Maluti Mountains on the headwaters of what, in South Africa, becomes the Orange River. Others dams were to follow.

Part of the job was to construct an airstrip up in the mountains, at 7,200 feet altitude at a place called Pelaneng; by the junction of the Pelaneng and Malibamatso Rivers.

Two bulldozers were used to level the headland to create the runway, and a hundred or so cattle to compact the soil. Land-Rovers towing the overturned abandoned load-bed of a long gone lorry smoothed the trampled earth, and made it suitable for Lesotho Airways Cessna 206s to land and take off. An attempt to use a team of cattle harnessed to the load-bed failed because the animals were not used to working together.

It was given the identification letters PEL, which it still has. However, since it was built only as part of the surveying stage of the project it has now become defunct and derelict – and replaced by the Katse Dam airstrip near the dam.

Attached are Google Maps aerial views of the airstrip as it now is, and others I took during its construction.


  • Pelaneng airstrip - c 2021 and 12 Jun 1971.JPG
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Regular Member
May 14, 2018
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Quite some history you recorded for the project. Why did they not use a dozer to pull the lorry bed instead?
Because of the lack of suitable roads to the site, it was impossible to get a grader there, which would have been the normal machine. And the dozers were only on site to do the levelling. Then they were gone. Besides, we had seen the load-bed early on, and had already thought of using it one way or another. What I did not include was how we came to use the cattle to compact the soil after the dozers had levelled it. As a quite unqualified field assistant, I was sitting one day in the office in Maseru with half a dozen AMICEs, etc. The matter of what to do after the dozers had finished their work came up. Someone said a grader could not be got there; nor what is called a "sheep's foot roller", a heavy steel roller with protruding lumps all round it, imitating the effect sheep have on soft ground. The pointed tips of their feet compact the soil, detrimentally because it prevents rain being absorbed into earth. I perked up, "What's wrong with sheep's feet?" Half a dozen pairs of eyes stared at me. "How about compacting the earth with not sheep but cattle, etc walking up and down over it?" I asked. I got the job of rounding up as many oxen, cows, horses, donkeys, goats and sheep I could muster from the locals. As the photos show, I succeeded and it worked.

And being southern Africa - with its long history of bullock trains with up to 16 animals in a team - we thought we'd try that idea to pull the lorry-bed, at angle angle to imitate a grader's blade. But bullocks/oxen need to have been trained to work in unison, and they were only used to working in pairs. Hence the Land-Rovers. Just a shame it is just one more piece of engineering fading away as nature takes back its own.