Sehla­bathebe vil­lagers up in arms

. . . ac­cuse lodge man­age­ment of con­niv­ing with tourists to ex­ploit them

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Retha­bile Pitso

QACHA’S NEK — Sehla­bathebe vil­lagers are up in arms with the “au­thor­i­ties” they are now ac­cus­ing of fail­ing to sup­port their horse-leas­ing busi­ness to tourists.

The res­i­dents are par­tic­u­larly an­gry with Sehla­bathebe Na­tional Park Lodge man­agers they al­lege are en­cour­ag­ing tourists not to deal with an as­so­ci­a­tion the vil­lagers formed to reg­u­late the horse leas­ing in­dus­try.

The lodge, which is lo­cated in Sehla­bathebe Na­tional Park in Qacha’s Nek district, is un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Min­istry of Tourism, En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­ture (MTEC) but man­aged by a Khali Ho­tel and Zam­bezi Kanyemba Sa­faris joint-ven­ture.

Sit­u­ated 2 400 me­ters above sea level, the Park has been part of the Mal­oti-drak­ens­berg World Her­itage Site since Oc­to­ber 2008.

The ideal des­ti­na­tion for those seek­ing the soli­tude and adventure only na­ture can pro­vide, Sehla­bathebe is home to a range of Afro-alpine and Sub-alpine plants, mam­mals, avi­fauna, rep­tiles, am­phib­ians and fish and has spec­tac­u­lar scenery char­ac­terised by unique rock for­ma­tions.

Most of the Park is a des­ig­nated wilder­ness and although small by in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, re­tains a nat­u­ral char­ac­ter with a mag­i­cal al­lure, hence the steady stream of tourists to the site.

This Park hosts 23 per­cent of the plant species in the whole of the Mal­oti-drak­ens­berg area. Apart from the unique flo­ral pres­ence, there is a record 65 rock-art and other forms of previous habi­ta­tion sites in the Park.

Although the Park can be ac­cessed by foot, most tourists pre­fer to use horses to quench their adventure spirit, es­pe­cially when trekking through the Bush­man’s Nek Pass, sit­u­ated on the South­East­ern part of the site, as this area is not ac­ces­si­ble by ve­hi­cles.

The Bush­man’s Nek pass takes one down caves over­look­ing the Mal­oti-drak­ens­berg moun­tains where there is a magnificent view of sand­stone rock-for­ma­tions and over­hangs.

Some tourists take horse-rides to Tsoe­like Falls, which is about three kilo­me­tres from the lodge, but the own­ers of these an­i­mals are bit­ter at the Lodge man­age­ment for fail­ing to re­spect their as­so­ci­a­tion which was es­tab­lished to reg­u­late the “in­dus­try”.

Mem­bers of the as­so­ci­a­tion who spoke to the Le­sotho Times last week nar­rated how the Lodge man­age­ment is leav­ing them with no choice but to lower their daily horse-rental fees from the stan­dard M150 to M100 or even lower, and if they refuse, look for horse­own­ers who don’t be­long to the as­so­ci­a­tion and can charge even lower rates.

One of the horse-own­ers is Rab­o­tate Moreti, who feels “cheated” by the lodge-man­age­ment.

“We are hav­ing a lot of prob­lems with the lodge-man­age­ment to the ex­tent that our horses are not be­ing hired by the tourists any­more.

“We agreed, as an as­so­ci­a­tion, to charge M150 per horse a day, but we are of­ten forced to lower these prices to M100 or even M80, against our wishes.

“The own­ers of the lodge say we should be gen­er­ous when we deal with tourists but how can we do this when this is our busi­ness; when this is our source of in­come?” he asked.

Other horse-own­ers who spoke with the Le­sotho Times echoed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments, in­sist­ing the lodge-man­agers were not be­ing sym­pa­thetic to their plight.

How­ever, the Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of the lodge, Marotholi Khali said man­age­ment would re­spect any agree­ments made be­tween the Min­istry of Tourism, En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­ture (MTEC), Le­sotho Tourism De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (LTDC) and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“We sup­port the idea that com­mu­ni­ties should ben­e­fit from tourism hap­pen­ing within their vicin­ity.

“That is why we have an ar­range­ment in place to bor­row their horses when­ever tourists come.

“How­ever, I can­not rule out that there is a pos­si­bil­ity that some of them get cheated or feel cheated dur­ing the ar­range­ment.

“What hap­pens is at times, we have tourists who visit this place for long pe­ri­ods of time such as re­searchers from Wits Univer­sity who are cur­rently here to un­der­take a study.

“When we have such tourists, that is when we ne­go­ti­ate with the horse-own­ers to re­duce their rates to en­able the vis­i­tors to travel by horse daily. It is not cor­rect to say we are try­ing to ex­ploit the com­mu­nity.

“In fact, we are cur­rently try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with them to hire out the horses on a monthly ba­sis es­pe­cially in sum­mer when the lodge is at its tourism peak.

“The month-long lease would be con­ve­nient to all the par­ties in­volved as we would have the horses read­ily avail­able when­ever they are needed.

“Their pres­ence within the vicin­ity would also mean they would be hired more of­ten than when a tourist can­not see them,” Mr Khali said.

Mean­while, be­sides the wan­der­ing an­telopes and other wild an­i­mals found within the Park, horses from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are al­lowed to graze in Sehla­bathebe Na­tional Park.

The grass­lands sur­round­ing the Park are also rich, mak­ing the en­tire area highly con­ducive for live­stock farm­ing.

Cat­tle, sheep, don­keys and horses are well-tended here, with the vast grass­lands and wet­lands en­sur­ing the an­i­mals never run out of feed dur­ing both win­ter and sum­mer sea­sons.

It is there­fore, not a sur­prise that with such a live­stock par­adise in their midst, com­mu­nity mem­bers earn a liv­ing through wool and mo­hair, yet ram­pant stock­theft is another prob­lem they have to grap­ple with.

“We have thieves com­ing from neigh­bour­ing South Africa who of­ten use the Ra­mat­seliso bor­der post and Bush­man’s Nek paths to trans­port the stolen live­stock ei- ther from or to Le­sotho.

“We are of­ten at­tacked by these thieves who travel through these routes to steal our cat­tle and sheep.

“At times they even take our horses so they can eas­ily shep­herd the stolen an­i­mals.

“It is, there­fore, hard to take care of the horses, and why our prices have to be stan­dard as they also take care of is­sues such as se­cu­rity.

“When the an­i­mals are not prop­erly taken care of, they are over­looked and when they are stolen, we are left with lit­tle to take care of our fam­i­lies with.

“It would be help­ful if govern­ment could come up with a pricelist to reg­u­late charges across the coun­try so that ev­ery tourist pays the same amount of money for hir­ing our horses,” said another horse owner Moeti Ntaote.

tourists pony trekking through the moun­tains in Qacha’s Nek.

Sehla­bathebe Na­tional Park lodge in Qacha’s Nek

Some of the horse-own­ers who feel cheated by the lodge man­age­ment.

Min­is­ter of tourism likeleli tam­pane (right) buys from lo­cal traders last thurs­day.

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