Villagers demand their pound of flesh

Villagers demand their pound of flesh

Their forefathers built caves to escape cannibalism, now Kome villagers are demanding their pound of flesh

BEREA – Chief Teleka and his people built the Kome Caves in the 19th century to escape becoming dinner for cannibals lurking in the mountains.
Today, their descendants still living in the internationally famed caves are demanding their pound of flesh – in the form of tourist revenues.
A place of priceless historical significance, the caves are described on world tourism sites as “neat”, “surprisingly cozy”, “extraordinary” and “refreshingly different”.

But inhabitants say they are getting a raw deal from the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC). They are now threatening to ban tourists from visiting the place until their concerns are addressed. The cave inhabitants say the corporation, together with companies it contracts to manage festivals in their village and lead tourists to their caverns, are unjustly benefitting more.

Cave home owners get M3 per visitor. The LTDC gets 60 percent of revenues that it says it is saving for future water and road infrastructure development for the village Despite this, the cave owners say they want a bigger share in their pockets, claiming ignorance of the LTDC plans to save money for development projects.

The cave home owners have been joined by villagers in their protest, especially home-stay owners, who also accuse the corporation of undercutting them. The caves are situated beneath an overhang of sandstone cliffs about 25 kilometres east of Teya-Teyaneng.
They were built in the 19th century during Moshoeshoe I’s trek from Butha-Buthe to Thaba-Bosiu by Chief Teleka of the Basia as a refuge from the marauding cannibals who inhabited the area during a devastating drought.

Current Ha-Kome village chief, ’Mateboho Kome, said companies that the corporation has been contracting to manage festivals held in the village “leave nothing” for her people. The chief told thepost that she expects to know how much is collected from tourists so that the villagers can have a say on how the money is shared and spent.

Festivals and other activities “are held in the name of the village and all sponsors are lured in thinking they will benefit the poor villagers”, she said.
The annual Kome Beer Festival, which stopped two years ago, used to be in November. The festival, which attracted tourists from as far as Swaziland and Botswana who would stay at the village for days, used to provide a boon for the village.

One of the rural home stay owners, ’Mateboho Seithati, said the home stay business was usually seasonal.
“A month can pass without visitors coming to sleep at my house but I always keep the house clean in case they come,” Seithati said.
“But on the other side during the festive season they come in higher numbers to an extent that at some point I make more than M7 000 per month,” she said.

Molapo Matela, the LTDC spokesman said the corporation is “working tirelessly” to develop Lesotho’s tourism industry to benefit people like those in Kome. He said the LTDC, in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)’s STEP Foundation, has initiated a community based tourism development project.

Part of the project includes the Kome Rural Homestays Project, whose focus is directed at Malimong and Ha-Kome areas in the Berea District.
The project also seeks to develop tourism in Thaba-Bosiu and Ha-Baroana, in the north eastern region of the Maseru district, Matela said.
Matela said the intervention was meant to improve the quality of stays for tourists and to further enhance rural community livelihoods.
Further, the project aims at stimulating enterprise development and income generating prospects for nearby communities in hopes of reducing poverty.

The LTDC says it is putting in place strategies that are inclusive of local communities who inhabit areas surrounding tourist attractions.
The LTDC has since 2006 been sensitising communities around tourist attraction areas on the importance of tourism to their livelihoods and the entire economy of the country. Kome villagers have benefitted from such training.
But many of the villagers who live in the caves that boast historical San paintings would rather talk about real cash than such training programmes.

Senate Sekotlo

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