On Tuesday 24 February, Russell drove up Sani Pass into Lesotho to deliver 70 blankets to shepherds . The day began with the shepherds coming down from the surrounding mountains where they tend their flocks of sheep during the summer months and assembling at the local chiefs house. The meeting began with a prayer that the sheep under their care would come to no harm in their absence as the sheep do not belong to them but to people for whom they are effectively employed. In return for keeping the sheep safe from jackal and dogs, the shepherds are given maize meal to subsist on. They are paid annually in sheep or goats. Their meagre attire consists of one blanket over a pair of shorts, wellington boots , a walking stick and a balaclava or beanie for head gear . The elements at 3000 metres and higher in altitude can be extreme from strong winds, to rain, sleet, snow, hail and ferocious lightening storms. The lifestyle of the shepherd whose age may be as low as 8 years old, is thus one of extreme hardship. Rough structures called ‘ motebo’s ‘ constructed from stone and grass thatch without a door or window, offers basic shelter from the outdoors. Traditional musical instruments resembling a guitar and another a bow string are often played by the shepherds and if a shepherd happens to be near enough to the road while you are driving through Lesotho’s rugged mountainous east country, you may fortunate to hear these being played. While a shepherd’s life is rugged and tough, many of them love this time of their lives when they are shepherds as they have a tremendous sense of freedom, deep in remote mountains and far from bosses and family. It also allows them to build up flocks and herds of animals of their own, giving them a solid start to life when they decide to get married and start a family of their own. Imagine, a group of 3 or 4 boys, aged anything between 8 and 20, looking after large flocks of sheep and goats, sometimes also herds of cattle and horses, often valued at well over R250 000 at such a tender age. Boys grow up fast in Lesotho!!
At a large meeting of Shepherds in 2008, Drakensberg Adventures set up a policy to set aside R25 per trip into Lesotho to go a shepherd’s fund. This is basically “payment for services rendered”, and the services which the shepherds give us are that they are an important part of the visitor’s overall experience of Lesotho. We therefore ask shepherds we encounter on our tours to be respectful, friendly and honest in their interactions with our groups and to be willing to be photographed. In return, our fund sponsors blankets for those shepherds with whom we have interacted and who’s names we have collected on tours.
Tuesday’s gathering was the sixth year in which we have given out blankets and we have now distributed nearly 200 blankets, sourced directly from the main factory in Johannesburg, Aranda Textile Mills. Our tour guide, Tsebo Molefe, who is fluent in Sesotho, assisted by translating Russell’s talk about the whole scheme to the more than 100 shepherds present, many of whom were in the highlands for their first year. We then handed the blankets out amid much laughter and jollity!