Drakensberg cable car debate is back

2013-08-04 14:00

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But residents will fight it on feasibility

Lightning strikes the Drakensberg about 100 times a year and the wind is so fierce that Lesotho is reportedly considering building wind farms.

But after a positive ­feasibility study released this week, government may have ­finally given the controversial Drakensberg cable car project the nod.

KwaZulu-Natal’s Economic Development MEC, Mike Mabuyakhulu, unveiled an ­ambitious blueprint for the ­cable car, first mooted in 1994 but never introduced because of the massive cost of the project and its potential ­ecological impact.

Mabuyakhulu, discussing the feasibility study on Tuesday, said government would ­develop a business plan, while holding “rigorous and open’’ consultations over the next four months with communities where the cable car was likely to be developed.

The consultations are likely to be lively.

The new study, conducted by Graham Muller Associates, follows two earlier, less ­positive studies.

The first, conducted by the Federation of Drakensberg ­User Groups, found it ­extremely unlikely that any ­cable car project could be sustainable in the Berg area

because of a number of factors, including the unpredictable and potentially dangerous weather, and the low number of tourists.

The project requires 300 000 visitors a year – more than twice the current figure.

Chris Sommer, who ­administrates a Drakensberg community website, believes the cost of building and maintaining such a structure would outweigh its profitability.

“I also find it very significant that the local people themselves are opposed to the idea.

“They know that the amount of job creation will not uplift their entire community,” said Sommer.

Muller, who conducted the new feasibility study, ­dismissed lightning as a non-issue. He said cable cars were designed as Faraday cages, a metallic enclosure that ­prevents the entry or escape of an electromagnetic field.

And he said the weather was sometimes better at the top of the escarpment than at the bottom, adding that facilities at the top would afford “wind-sheltered panoramic views”.

Ilan Lax, chairperson of the Wilderness Action Group, said local communities wished to set aside some of the area ­likely to be affected as a community wilderness area.

Wilderness areas offer people places where they can enjoy solitude in landscapes that are wild and natural.

The Drakensberg and Cederberg mountains still have such ­sacred spaces with the rock art of the Khoisan people.

Mabuyakhulu promised there would be a full environmental impact assessment of the plan.

Pie in the sky?

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