MOTLHABANENG: Often the people of Bobirwa District have sad memories of destruction caused by animals, especially elephants that destroy ploughing fields, let alone maul people, and jackals that target small stock.
This creates negativity and undermines the benefits that tourism brings to communities around the game reserves outside the formal job opportunities created for people of Mathathane, Bobonong, Semolale or Motlhabaneng that are employed by operators in the region.
Despite these shortcomings, two projects in Motlhabaneng, an agricultural village stand out and are lined-up to have a slice of a cake of over P3 billion windfall that tourism brings annually to the economy.
Paul Mathatha, a Motlhabaneng based farmer, and a group of women in the Are Jeng ka Mabogo project involved in weaving shows that the industry is having a positive impact on the people of the small village to offset damage by wild animals.
Mathatha, who rears cattle and grows cash crops on the Motloutse river banks, complains about the damage to crops and hence needs help from government to increase production.
But how does a farmer benefit from tourism? Mathata explains that he was approached by Mashatu Game Reserve in the Limpopo valley to be part of the tourism package.
Whenever tourists come to the game reserve, they are also given a chance to the see the lives of ordinary Batswana and that is where he comes in. Then in return, he is paid a fee by the game reserve.
“When the tourists come here, it is helpful because Mashatu pays me and I put food on my table. The relationship is useful”, he explains to The Telegraph.
It is not only the foreign tourists that visit his farm as domestic travellers are given the opportunity also to learn about the Tswana culture.
On the other hand, a group of women have teamed up to set up Are Jeng ka Mabogo project that was formed in 1999 by 14 village women who wanted to empower themselves.
The women weave and sell basketry more than anyone else in the country, using Mokolwane tree that can also be used for popular local beer despite having a number of challenges ahead of them.
Although they complain that their major market is currently depressed, the group sells their products to tourists visiting the village from Mashatu and local residents.
They have showcased their products at Women Affairs Expo this year where they won a trophy.
“We started at DOSET, but later realised we could weave and that was when we grouped ourselves to feed our families,” said Phoko Ramofi, the spokesperson of the women project.
DOSET is the Department of Out of School Education and Training (DOSET), which is commonly referred to Non Formal Education.
They weave bowels for use as fruit containers, trays, dustbins and wall mats from the mokolwane tree.
Ramofi highlighted their present challenges as the depressed tourism market and limited supply of a particular die, the brown ivory, used for decoration, but states that the project has the potential to uplift their lives.
The project illustrates that the global recession has not only affected the mining and mainstream tourism, but affiliated projects like weavery as it is dependent on tourists although there is domestics market.
“Tourism has a big influence on a project like this one. If there is market, we can survive with our families,” said Ramofi.
Farmers around the Tuli area have in the past complained that elephants that are estimated to be over 1, 000 in number are seen as a menace in the areas around the game reserves as they destroy crops and kill people at some places.
However, the village chief has explained that the Department of Wildlife and National Park is trying their best, as an electric fence has been erected to control the animals’ movement.
Kgosi Mphale Sepoda of Motlhabaneng says even the Tuli farmers have put up resources together to limit the damage although the elephants still destroy the fence.
“Government is proactive to finding a solution for the animals and people to co-exist. The animals are still important to us as tourists come here for them,” says one conservationist.