Govt’s big cableway junket

2014-09-06 00:00

IT has been called economically unfeasible.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife have condemned it, while the community most affected by it have also rejected it.

But, in a move that could easily set taxpayers back several hundred thousand rands, a team of provincial government officials is set for a global tour to inspect cableways around the world.

The international trip is for research purposes to support the proposed R570 million Drakensberg cableway.

A proposal for a Berg cableway to rival that of Table Mountain in Cape Town was first announced at the KZN Tourism Indaba in May 2012 by Michael Mabuyakhulu, KZN’s Economic Development and Tourism MEC.

The cableway was one of several tourism “game changers” announced at the Indaba, along with a giant statue of King Shaka at the Thukela River mouth and a bridge to rival that of Sydney’s from the Point to the Bluff in Durban.

Last year, Mount Amery was identified as the summit terminus for the proposed cableway, with the base station located near Woodstock Dam in the Mnweni area of the berg.

However, the proposal has been declared economically unfeasible by various authorities and individuals, including wildlife organisation Ezemvelo.

And instead of welcoming the project, the AmaZizi, the community most affected by it, are asking why their existing upliftment and conservation projects are being ignored.

In his August budget speech, Mabuyakhulu said the Ithala Development Finance Corporation had been appointed to steer the project, which will include an environmental impact assessment and also explore funding options via the Industrial Development Corporation, the Development Bank of South Africa and National Empowerment Fund.

According to department spokesperson Bheko Madlala, Ithala “will also be looking for an operator for the cableway with global experience”.

Madlala said the international research trip was necessary as the earlier studies had been “desktop” and there was a need to actually see cableways on “other world heritage sites and eco-sensitive areas”.

These could include such cableways as those in the Swiss Alps, the Mount Etna cable car in Sicily, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Cairns, Australia, and those in China’s Huangshan mountains.

Madlala said he was unable to put a price tag on the trip as the sites to be visited still had to be decided.

He said those going on the trip would be “senior government officials and other interested stakeholders”.

A quick check yesterday showed that an economy class return ticket from South Africa to Huangshan costs from R20 000 to R30 000 per person, while a return to Cairns would cost a minimum of R19 500 per person next week. This excludes accommodation, food and other costs that would be borne by the taxpayer.

Ann McDonnell, DA spokesperson for economic development and a member of the portfolio committee, said she had “no idea” the trip was on the cards.

McDonnell said there was only R5 million remaining in the department’s budget, and it looked as though some of this would be spent on the trip.

She said she was “vehemently opposed” to the cableway.

“We need to get our existing tourism right and improve the roads and accommodation at the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve and bring them up to Didima standard.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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