The Qwa Qwa region around Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is primarily inhabited by members of the Batlokoa chiefdom. The Batlokoa community comprises a range of different Sotho-Tswana peoples, its population ranging from Botswana to Lesotho to the Free State and Gauteng. The tribe has inhabited the areas around Witsiehoek since the mid 19th century. In 1874, a mission station of the Dutch Reformed Church was established in the area. However, the majority of the Batlokoa living in the Free State today are Catholic. While elements of traditional Batlokoa culture still survive today, such as traditional music and oral poetry, the community has adapted to a rapidly urbanising population and culture, centred on the ever-expanding capital of the Qwa Qwa region, Phuthadithjhaba (meaning meeting place of the people).
Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge was originally built in the 1970s as a state enterprise, though former Batlokoa chief Wessels Mota built a stone hut for backpackers on the site in the 1950s. The lodge was gradually given over to the current King of the local Batlokoa community, Morena Mota (son of Wessels Mota), in the mid 90s. It was officially made a community asset by the state in 2000. Management challenges prompted the Traditional Council of the Batlokoa under their leader, Morena Mota, to enter into an agreement with Transfrontier Park Destinations (TFPD) in 2010 as management and marketing operators.
With their focus on the development of a viable and sustainable tourism industry that balances the needs of the local community with those of nature, TFPD now manages Witsieshoek and the surrounding land and tourism activities on behalf of the Batlokoa community. The Batlokoa still own the lodge and the bulk of its revenue remains within the community; the Batlokoa also provide the majority of the lodge’s workforce. Any proposals regarding the future of the lodge and the finances garnered by it are relayed to King Mota and his council for discussion before any decisions are taken. Much of the artwork and woven items in the lodge is also made within the local Batlokoa community and Qwa Qwa region.
Renowned for their friendly manner, the Batlokoa people welcome visitors to their local church where an excellent choir sings on Sunday mornings. Traders in the local village of Tseseng, the closest town to Phuthaditjhaba, can show you both modern commerce and traditional craft and art.