Tourism slumps as Oliviershoek Pass road reaches ‘expiry date’

2012-08-05 00:00

THE R74 Oliviershoek Pass road has become a nightmare for business owners and residents in the Bergville and Winterton areas.

The route, which used to attract many tourists, is badly potholed and has unmanned stop-go stretches.

Thriving businesses like the Little Switzerland Hotel warn their timeshare and chalet guests to “proceed with extreme caution” and closed their hotel on May 1 after losing too many customers due to the poor road condition.

Mlungisi Ndlangisa, manager in the office of the mayor at Okhahlamba Local Municipality, said they were aware of the problem and were working on resolving it.

“We are currently preparing a document that will be presented to the national Transport Department,” he said.

Ndlangisa told The Witness that the bad part of the road was in the Free State province, not KwaZulu-Natal.

“The Free State appointed a company to fix the road, but somewhere along the way they stopped working. We were told that there were problems between the [Free State] government and the contractor.”

He said tourism was also affected.

“Tourists are no longer using that road and businesses are suffering.”

Tania van der Walt, who works at the Caltex garage in Bergville, situated close to the R74, said they have had a bad year.

“We have lost hundreds of cars. Our main source of business is people coming from Johannesburg visiting Drakensberg, but they are no longer coming,” she said.

She said people were no longer using Oliviershoek Pass, but using Van Reenen’s Pass instead.

“We are only getting local clientele and have had to cut down on expenses to save money.

KZN Transport Department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said the department was working on the issue. “Many roads in the province have reached their expiry dates and the R74 is one of them. The road is very old and damaged.”

He said the problem would not be fixed overnight. “We appeal to people to be patient with us. We are committed to turning the road back to its old condition.”

A Bergville resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the road was worse than a farm road. There were potholes 30 cm deep and the road “is full of stones. It is absolutely terrible.”

The Automobile Association (AA) is aware of this problem and has also tried to get it sorted out.

AA spokesperson Gary Ronald told The Witness the road had been left completely alone. “The contractor on the R74 stopped working about a year ago. It is absolutely criminal that a major route would influence business because of the lack of a road.”

About two months ago the AA wrote to the national departments of transport and tourism and the Treasury.

The Presidency was copied.

“We sent a letter voicing our concerns and asking for remedial action. We haven’t had a response.”

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