African business, politics and lifestyle
Lesotho takes tourism plunge
A day at the races? Abseiling down a waterfall? These are among the attractions residents hope will lure tourists to Lesotho.
It is struggling with drought and an HIV/AIDS crisis that is believed to have infected about a third of adults.
With limited resources bar its and mountainous landscape — grazing for angora goats — the former British protectorate is dependent on the continent’s economic powerhouse South Africa, which entirely surrounds it.
Developing tourism could provide a lifeline.
Most of the informal businesses near the town of Semonkong, high in the mountains about 100 km (60 miles) from the capital, are linked in some way to serving holidaymakers. The town’s biggest economic venture is probably the Semonkong Lodge, which employs 30 people and is run by a South African.
“I started working at the bus stop with another woman making and selling local bread. The owners of the lodge used to see us there, and they asked us if we could supply bread on a daily basis. It’s the main source of income for all our families,” Itumeleng Rapotsana, who left her family behind in her home village, told Reuters Africa Journal.
Another group of residents offers visitors the experience of abseiling down the gorge where sub-Saharan Africa’s highest single waterfall — Maletsunyane — surges into the river below.
So far, just a few hundred tourists a year make it to Semonkong, about a five hour drive by 4×4 from the capital Maseru. Annual tourism revenue for the town is $250,000.
Lesotho Tourism Development worker Delphis Ntseli says the government is trying to bring services closer to the town — which has no mains water or electricity — and there are plans to improve access to “help Lesotho capitalise on the uniqueness of the place that Semonkong is”.
“As one would imagine, it’s a remote place and being remote is has got its challenges in terms of economic development,” he said.
Race days bring a dash of excitement to the town for residents and tourists alike. There are no professional jockeys, indeed most of the jockeys are children, the sons of the trainers and owners, but the prize money and pride ensure stiff competition.
“I don’t think I can survive without it, I don’t think I will ever quit this, it is in my blood,” 68-year-old trainer Moreruwa Mohlodisi told Africa Journal. He has bought livestock, built houses and educated his children with the proceeds of racing.
Many residents hope the races, the landscape and even the abseiling will attract more people, but the trick will be to find the balance between securing a place on the tourist trail and not losing the town’s soul.
(Photos: A villager sits in Moholi, southern Lesotho, October 2004. Reuters/ Lesotho residents on horseback attend inauguration ceremony of water project, March 2004. Reuters/Juda Ngwenya)