. . . accuses events’ company of excluding villagers in beer festival
Motsamai Mokotjo & Mohalenyane Phakela
HA Kome village Chief Teboho Kome has accused Tangerine Inc, the organisers of the Kome Caves Beer and Glamping Festival, of giving the community a raw deal and reneging on their promises.
Tangerine Inc was selected by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) to manage and administer the Kome Caves Arts and Crafts Centre, the Kome Development Trust and promote the Caves as a tourist attraction.
The events’ company also launched the Kome Caves Beer and Glamping Festival in 2013, an annual three-day music, beer and glamping fete. In addition to sampling various types of alcoholic beverages, the festival also offers various outdoor activities including horse-riding, quad-biking, extreme paintball, archery target shooting, and cave tours among others.
However, according to Chief Kome, they were not partaking in the benefits of the tourism initiative, since they were largely excluded from it.
“People who come here to host events don’t involve local communities; we don’t feel like it is ours,” he said.
“In addition they don’t live up to their promises.”
Chief Kome said last year Tangerine Inc hired villagers from 10 surrounding communities to fence and repair the ground on which the festival was held. The festival ran from 28 – 30 November 2014. The chief, however, said the M600 the villagers had been promised per head was yet to materialise.
“I get asked every time the question; ‘Chief when will we be paid?’ and I don’t know how to respond to it,” he said.
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Chief Kome added that the festival organisers had also made use of the villagers’ yards to camp revellers for a fee, “and they have also not been paid either”.
The Kome Caves are dwellings carved out under towering rocks and are a National Heritage Site. With a history dating back to the 1800’s, the Kome Cave Village, as it is otherwise known, served as a fortress for its first settlers who fled the lifaqane wars that devastated much of the southern African region in the early 19th Century. It was also a hiding place for its inhabitants from cannibals. The caves are still inhabited by the descendants of the people who built the caves.
Contacted for comment, Tangerine Inc Managing Director Mofihli Makoele, acknowledged owing the villagers, saying they were already settling their debts with the villagers.
“Due to the losses we incurred last year, we could not start making payments immediately after the festival,” Mr Makoele said.
“The community was divided into three groups and each had to get M25 200, but we have only managed to pay one to date. We intend to settle the next group next month and the last one in September.”
He slammed the villagers for being “ungrateful”, saying Tangerine Inc was only obligated to contribute 10 percent of its earnings to the community but had also employed locals in the preparation and during the festival.
“To host the festival costs us more than M1.8 million and we have incurred losses in the past two years,” said Mr Makoele, adding that their contract with the LTDC expired in March, although they were still paying their creditors.
“We cannot renew the contract as running the Kome Caves is very expensive since the operating costs are very high.”
“For starters, we roughly made M10 000 a month and then had to pay M4000 rent, staff salaries and contribute 10 percent of the earnings to the community development trust.
“In 2013 we paid all our expenses, it’s only last year that we incurred the high costs because of the rain that ruined the preparations and event.”
Also contacted for comment, LTDC Public Relations Manager ‘Manchafalo Motšoeneng said they were aware of the villagers’ grievances, and had advised them to invite Tangerine Inc to a meeting to iron out the issue.
However, according to Ms Motšoeneng, the corporation had been told by the villagers that several attempts to invite a representative from Tangerine Inc had been fruitless because they would not show up for the scheduled meetings.
“LTDC is not party to the contract agreed upon between Tangerine Inc and the community,” she said.
“However, it was made clear to the community that, if invited to intervene, LTDC was willing to do so.”
Ms Motšoeneng added that the LTDC was also involved in initiatives to equip the villagers with skills to better their lives.
“Some of the community members were recently trained in rural home-stays management and tour guiding,” she said.
“We also intend to offer other members of the Kome community training in the production of good quality handicrafts.”