Biggest braai festival on course
. . . as LTDC intervenes in organisers, locals’ dispute
THE second edition of the Maletsunyane Braai Festival will be held as planned from 25 to 26 November 2017 after the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) intervened in a dispute between the organisers and the community.
Held against the backdrop of the breath-taking Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong the festival is a free event open to people from all walks with the twin aims of promoting domestic tourism and fostering networking.
Situated approximately 115km from Maseru, the Maletsunyane Falls are part of the Maletsunyane River which flows through Semonkong (place of smoke). The Falls are among the country’s premier tourism attractions with a height of 192 metres.
The holding of this year’s edition of the festival had become uncertain after some people who identified themselves as the youths of Semonkong lashed out on social media at the organisers, OTB Exclusive Events Management, accusing them of side-lining locals.
They accused the organisers of charging “ridiculous” prices for renting vendors’ stalls. The food stall cost M1 100, crafts M600, games M600 and corporate space M5 000.
The Semonkong youths also accused the organisers of hogging the beverages stalls, saying they were never advertised.
For their part, OTB Exclusive Events Management denied side-lining locals, saying they were many people purporting to be representatives of the community who made different demands. The organisers also asserted that the prices they charged vendors were meant to recoup the logistical costs they incurred.
LTDC Public Relations Manager ‘Manchafalo Motšoeneng told XpressPeople this past week they held a meeting with the organisers and community representatives last Tuesday to find a solution.
“During the meeting, representatives from the Semonkong community said they expected the organisers to involve them in preparing for the event,” she said.
“They wanted locals to be afforded the opportunity to work at the festival in various capacities and to sell food and alcohol among others.”
Motšoeneng said they eventually reached a consensus with both parties.
“LTDC stands firm in that wherever there is a tourism attraction, the surrounding community should benefit,” she said.
“After listening to both sides’ concerns, we found common ground. We advised both parties to involve the area chief in everything they agree on and to write everything down as proof that such an agreement was made.”
The community members, Motšoeneng said, were happy that their grievances were addressed while the organisers were relieved to finally speak to the bona fide representatives.
“They are expected to hold several meetings before the festival and promised to keep us updated to ensure that everything remains on track,” she said.
Semonkong Cooperatives chairperson, Dimpho Malehi, told this publication they were pleased that their concerns were heard although they were yet to map out how they would work together.
“During the Tuesday meeting at the LTDC and a follow up held in Semonkong on Wednesday, we learned that the organisers already had plans to incorporate the community in organising the festival,” she said.
“We are still at the beginning of the negotiations, but happy that the organisers are willing to ensure that we benefit.
“Most of the people who complained on social media were not even part of our group and we made that clear during the meeting. We also apologised to OTB for the social media outbursts.”
For his part, OTB Exclusive Events Management’s Tichere Pule said they never side-lined the community in their plans.
“In the previous edition, we worked with the area chief and councillor to ensure the community also benefits,” he said.
“We believe that this is not our event but one that is aimed at promoting tourism is Semonkong.
“During the festival, members of the community will be able to sell traditional foods without being charged anything.”
Pule added: “During the Wednesday meeting, we suggested that the community forms a committee which will identify people who can rent out their houses for accommodating guests.
“The selected houses will be published on our website which will also allow free advertising even after the event so that tourists who visit our website can know where they will sleep when visiting Semonkong.”