Mabeleteng brings new meaning to tourism
Riveting sights and sounds of this remote village in Butha-Buthe adds diversity to Lesotho’s appeal
As the convoy drove slowly along the rugged road cutting through the mountains of Mabeleteng in Butha-Buthe, some curious villagers could be seen peeping through their grass-thatched kitchen doors.
One would have expected many villagers to brave the windy weather and come out in their numbers to welcome the Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture, ‘Mamahele Radebe, who was visiting the area on Friday last week.
But instead of the expected rousing welcome, many of the villagers went into hiding, much to the bewilderment of the visitors.
It later emerged many families in the area grow dagga, which they sell to earn a living, and as a result, are suspicious of strangers as they are always fearful of being raided by the police and having their cannabis confiscated.
However, this was not the case as the minister had visited Mabeleteng village to raise awareness on the importance of herd-boys and the rest of the community, to contribute towards marketing the country.
By protecting tourists who visit the area and providing them with any information and help they might need, Ms Radebe said the community could earn a living through tourism.
Mabeleteng village is situated near the nature and wildlife reserve, Tšehlanyane National Park, which forms part of the larger Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Although both domestic and international tourists who visit the park use a different route which does not pass through Mabeleteng village, the shepherds interact with the tourists while herding livestock in the mountains.
“We are here together with the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) to educate the herdboys and the whole community about the tourism sector. We are saying you all have a role to play to develop tourism in our country,” Ms Radebe said to a sizeable audience, which later gathered after learning the minister’s visit had nothing to do with their illegal dagga-trade .
Since 2013, both the ministry and the LTDC have been focusing on building tourism awareness among the herdboys countrywide.
“Herdboys meet many tourists while herding livestock in the mountains. As a result, we would like them to treat the visitors with respect and understand the importance of ensuring tourists are happy and feel safe in all parts of the country,” she said.
Later in the day, the minister handed over the famous ‘Lesotho Haeso’ branded grey blankets to 38 herdboys as a way of marking their graduation into being the country tourism ambassadors.
According to Ms Radebe, local communities also have an important role to play when tourists come to the villages to experience the Basotho way of life.
The Mabeleteng villagers are simple folks who earn their living through farming on their fertile land.
Although they are also aware their land lies on a tourist-attraction belt, for years, they have not organised themselves well enough to maximise the benefits they could accrue from the tourism sector.
Despite this situation, there are few villagers such as Sepheame Ramabeleng, who are taking the tourism opportunities seriously by making stylish reed hats, which he sells to tourists.
An hour after the tourism awareness campaign had started in Mabeleteng, many villagers realised the gathering meant them no harm and decided to join in the fun-filled ceremony.
It was clear there are many interesting and talented people in Mabeleteng, as seen by the dressing of one teenager, Thabang Katse.
Thabang, 14, made himself an outfit out of a maize-meal sack, which many in the audience could not help but admire because of the ingenuity he employed in making it.
“I made this outfit especially for this occasion because this is my first time to see a minister visit this village. I could not miss it for anything else,” he said.
Thabang is one of the many youngsters in the area who dropped out of school mainly because the local community does not appear too keen to encourage the children to attend school.
A first child in a family of four siblings, Thabang now herds his family’s livestock.
“I dropped out when I was in Standard Six because I did not like going to school,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Instead of attending Damaseka Primary School, many boys of Thabang’s age now herd their families’ livestock, while others lucky enough to complete primary education find themselves faced with the difficulty of travelling more than 10 kilometres to Bokoro Secondary School.
However, Thabang was not the only one who stood out in the crowd of more than 100 people who had warmed up to Minister Radebe’s visit.
Traditional dancers of mohobelo and mokhibo and other unique performances by the herdboys, and one talented man who could do ‘wonder games’ with his cattle, kept the crowd in a celebratory mood.
Senior officials from the Ministry of Tourism took this opportunity to highlight the importance of preserving the country’s fragile environment and for the Mabeleteng community to organise cultural activities that could enhance the area’s tourism package.
The Director for Culture, Moliehi Ntene, told the villagers that they had a unique culture they should be proud to showcase to tourists and a lot of potential in the crafts business.
“Tourists travel long distances to see a lot of things apart from the major attraction, Tšehlanyane National Park. They want to interact with the local communities and learn about their way of life. This presents a good opportunity for you to work together in preserving your environment, which is what attracts the tourists here and also organise various cultural activities that can generate money,” Ms Ntene said.
On his part, the Director for Environment, Stanley Damane emphasised the importance of preserving wildlife species in the area.
“We are concerned about wildfires which break out during this windy and usually dry period. Fires threaten the natural ecosystems as manifested by the disappearance of many medicinal, indigenous plants and animal species in most parts of the country,” he said.
Mr Damane further said communities in the area could keep themselves busy by establishing medicinal and indigenous plant botanical gardens.
“These projects can be supported through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through our ministry. If the projects are successful, they can also generate some money through controlled trade in herbal medicines.”
The LTDC Chief Executive Officer, Mpaiphele Maqutu also encouraged the communities to be proud of their culture and preserve it in its natural state.
“Tourists are fascinated by the unique way you live, so you don’t need to transform your lives in order to attract them. What some of you might just need to change is the attitude towards the visitors. A good attitude and warm personality can help bring more good tourism-related developments to this area.”
Mr Maqutu cited the Malealea community, which he said came up with tourist-friendly strategies and activities, which are now earning them an income.
“What we are looking at is creating as many tourism villages as we can and for that to happen, we would like the communities to be aware of the opportunities presented to them and become well-organised to sustainably tap into the sector.”
Meanwhile, speaking on the sidelines of the tourism-awareness campaign, Minister Radebe, who also provided food parcels to 10 vulnerable families, said there was a lot of work to be done to help uplift the lives of the people of Mabeleteng village. Minister Radebe is also from the area, from Hololo Number 2 Constituency, to be exact.
The minister said while the communities could benefit a lot from tourism projects, there was also need for other support-mechanisms in the area of agriculture.
“The soil is rich and I think there is need to come up with programmes that can enhance and diversify agricultural activities to increase food production and help improve nutrition at household level. In an area like this, it would also be ideal to construct a large dam to help harness water for irrigated crop-production throughout the year. I don’t think we need to be focusing on creating formal jobs for rural communities because what most of them need is support to improve what they are already involved in, and in this case, agriculture and livestock-production.”
Ms Radebe further said women could also take a leading role in agro-businesses such as poultry, vegetable and fruit production and other entrepreneurial projects such as dressmaking and baking.
“If we are able to stimulate economic growth at rural or village level, we would have achieved the essence of practical sustainable development. I believe more opportunities should be created in rural areas to establish many options for people. Also, if we can capacitate people from where they reside, this can help reduce the pressure currently exerted on urban areas and urban infrastructure.”
The minister emphasised the need to upgrade the road to Mabeleteng, which she said would help to open up the area for investment and also enable local businesses to widen their trading area.
“Road-infrastructure attracts development along the whole area the network cuts through. Investors consider easy accessibility of an area before they can invest. At the moment, there is desperate need for a good road to make various forms of investments possible in this area. We would like our farmers here to be able to transport their produce to as far as Butha-Buthe town.”
Ms Radebe also said there is need to increase awareness on the importance of family planning and issues related to reproductive health.
“It is important that all these development programmes we are discussing are implemented by a healthy community, which is also aware of the importance of proper family planning.”
The minister further said she was worried that many children in the area were not going to school, while some parents appeared unaware of the importance of encouraging their children to go to school.
“While I think parents and families have a role to play in encouraging children to attend school, we also have to scrutinise other factors pushing children out of school before and after completing their primary education. We need to implement the right solutions because it is mainly through education that we can effectively capacitate rural communities with diverse skills. These skills would enable them to generate the necessary resources needed to take the development of this area to another level.”
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