The Balete Community of Lekgophung
Buffalo Ridge is unique for many reasons, none more so than the fact that it is the only lodge of its kind wholly-owned by a local rural community. Known as Balete, the owners of Buffalo Ridge live in the village of Lekgophung, just west of Madikwe. Their story is one of endurance and hardship, but also of joy and triumph. Like many such places, Lekgophung has been shaped by the history of our country. Its people have deep roots in the North West. They are members of the Batswana, the great tribe that has lived in and around the fringes of the Kalahari for many centuries. Their graves are scattered across the landscape, including Madikwe itself. They speak Setswana, the common tongue of the Batswana but the people of Lekgophung belong to a clan with its own traditions and way of life.
The Balete have their own chief, Kgosi Tsiepe, and their own totem, the buffalo, after which the lodge has been named. Your guides are from the village. Ask them and they will proudly tell you of their history. Of the time before the white people came, of the hardship they suffered living in a harsh and dry environment and especially of the time when many of their inhabitants were removed from their ancestral homes and resettled in what is today Lekgophung. During the time of apartheid, the Balete lost everything including most of the land that had sustained them. In their new surroundings, they had little opportunity and little support. But gradually they rebuilt their lives and their village into a place that today pulses with vitality. The photographs in your rooms are scenes from everyday life in Lekgophung, where people and their animals live in difficult conditions with dignity and humour.
It was 1999 when we first met the Balete. We had many years involvement in the lodge business and knew the potential of the industry to bring benefit and economic development to remote areas such as Lekgophung. Slowly the idea emerged of a very special partnership. The Balete would obtain lease rights to a prime site in the newly created Madikwe Game Reserve. They would build a lodge that would compete with the best. And they would enter into a partnership with an operating company with the expertise they needed to make their new business work. It took five years to convince the authorities, to raise the money and to overcome the many obstacles along the way. But it happened and Buffalo Ridge is the result.
And so the wheel has come full circle. The people who were dispossessed during the apartheid era now own a world-class business. They have used this position to structure a relationship with lodge, which brings optimal benefit to their people. The lodge is staffed by people from the village. There is a vigorous training program designed to ensure that the Balete develop the skills to manage their own lodge. And they receive a fair rental, which is available for investment in the village and its people.