Obituary

Thabiso Nkune Obituary by Russell Suchet

If you travel up the Sani Pass and over Kotisepola (Black Mountain), the road then heads down towards the town of Mokhotlong following the beautiful Sehonghong River valley. Reaching lower altitudes, you leave the wide open grazing slopes and enter the villages. About 50km from Sani Top, the road descends round a couple of twists and turns and passes a cluster of buildings. Painted on the back of a block building are the words “No. 10 Riverside”. This was the home of an extraordinary man,  Ntate Thabiso Nkune.

Edyel Thabiso Nkune was born in the village of Linakeng on 11 June 1945. He attended the Morija Training College and became a school teacher. In 1971, he married Elizabeth Mosele, and they had five daughters! He taught at Rammeleke Primary School, and later also worked for the Lesotho Milling Company. He came to live in the Matsoaing district near Mokhotlong, making his home at No. 10 Riverside.

In 2000, Russell and Simone Suchet of Sani Lodge started their own tour company running tours into Lesotho, called Drakensberg Adventures. One of their trips was a day tour to Mokhotlong and Russell did the guiding and also contracted Stuart McLean when he wasn’t available. Stuart stopped one day at No. 10 Riverside, met Ntate Thabiso and asked him whether he would be prepared to have tourists visit him on the day trips. Thabiso was only too delighted, and so commenced a relationship that lasted 11 years! In the early days, the South African border post closed at 4pm, and so the trips were always under time pressure. We never had more than 45 minutes or an hour at No. 10, during which Thabiso “welcomed everyone home” and showed them his excellent vegie garden, irrigated via  a series of old gutters from the nearby stream. What fertile, well-tended gardens he had, producing a great harvest of vegies, some of which he sold at Sani Top.The visit to No. 10 was the highlight of the tour, but with the time pressures, it placed a tremendous strain on guides, vehicles and clients alike. In 2004, we suggested to Thabiso that he convert the shell of building into a backpackers’ dormitory and we would then bring clients to stay overnight. He was delighted with this idea, and over the following months proceeded to finish the building, thatch it and smear the walls and floor with cattle dung. A traditional building with traditional insulation!!

In 2005, we brought the first clients to stay on our 2 day Eastern Lesotho Village Experience tour. It proved to be a great success, and the product has grown in leaps and bounds from those early days. The bare bunk beds now have sheets and duvets, even hot water bottles are provided. The Nkune family have invested in their business! Food on these tours is legendary – “Me Nkune is a superb cook!! Ntate Thabiso’s daughter, Nthabeleng joined the enterprise as guide, and this fitted in nicely with the expansion of the project to include a wide segment of the local community. Over the years, community involvement has increased to the point where there are now two dance/culture groups who are visited in rotation in the nearby villages of Makhapung and Mathakheng . These ladies show off local culture with pride, demonstrating the use of artefacts such as grinding stones and musical instruments, and finish off with some dancing. Two evening entertainment groups perform for clients with the emphasis being on participation, a ladies’ group and a shepherd boys’ group. A visit to the local Ngaka – Traditional Healer is part of the itinerary and so is a visit to one of three local primary schools. All of these “service providers” are paid per head for services rendered. In addition, clients have the option of doing a two hour horse-ride, providing a guiding job as well as income to the families who provide the horses on a rotation basis. All in all some 65 families in the district benefit from the tourism project set up by the partnership of Ntate Thabiso and Drakensberg Adventures. We have made a significant impact on the local economy - in excess of R650 000 has flowed into this area of the Basotho Highlands!

Ntate Thabiso was a great host. He had a natural way with people and made them feel instantly at ease in what was, for most of them, a very foreign environment. He was immensely proud of his country and his people and was at pains to help visitors understand and appreciate  Basotho culture. Our fast-paced, materialistic Western culture can learn a lot from the lifestyle, values and traditions of people such as the Highland dwelling Basotho, and a great many clients departed with their lives enriched.

Ntate Thabiso often wrestled with the difficulties of running his own tourism business, of marrying an increased personal standard of living and improvements to his product with the necessity not to harm what made his product unique and successful. He understood the importance of the “sense of place” of No. 10 Riverside, and was opposed to the planned tarring of the road between Mokhotlong and Sani Pass Hotel, as are most people involved with the tourism project. Many a hard meeting was held, but he was a man willing to listen, to acknowledge his mistakes and to learn from them. He was a man of integrity and as partners, we built something ground-breaking and successful.

In recent years, Ntate Thabiso was afflicted with diabetes, and entered the early stages of heart failure. He struggled on, but passed away on the 25 October 2011. His funeral took place on the 12 November and was attended by well over 200 people, a sign of the great respect he was held in. A distant relative, representing King Letsie III at the funeral, stated in his speech that he had never heard of his distant cousin, Ntate Thabiso until told about the tourism venture at No. 10 by an American!

His wife and daughter are continuing with the business, and the continued success of the Eastern Lesotho Village Experience would be the finest monument to Ntate Thabiso.

TRIBUTE FROM A GUEST

Dear people at Sani Lodge, I read on your website the sad news that Ntate Thabiso has passed away.

I do hope Thabaleng and the other family members will be able to cope with this loss. Please accept my condolences.
Here is a short video I made of Thabiso Nkune, who is telling a story about young Basotho men who went to Europe to fight in the British army - their ship sank and they all died. It was the SS Mendi in 1917. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fLl5U2IyfU
I hereby send you some pictures.


May Thates soul rest in eternel peace.

Regards,

Wil Resing
Brussels