Mt Amery chosen for cableway

2013-07-29 00:00

MOUNT Amery has been officially identified as the summit terminus for the proposed Drakensberg cableway; however the R500 million project will only generate 30 direct jobs.

The announcement was made at a function at the Alpine Heath Resort in the northern Drakensberg on Friday where the results of the feasibility study for the project were outlined for the first time.

The full study will be made available tomorrow and after a six-month consultation process a business plan will be created, followed by an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

“The cableway will harness the economic potential of the Drakens­berg world heritage site,” said Michael Mabuyakhulu, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development and Tourism. “It has the potential to turn this area into the crown jewel of our tourism projects.”

Mabuyakhulu first announced the proposed cableway at the Tourism Indaba in May 2012. “It was one of seven projects identified as game-changers in the 2012 Tourism Master Plan.”

These include a bridge from the Point to the Bluff in Durban that is intended to rival the Sydney harbour bridge, a giant statue of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona at the Tugela river mouth, a beach resort on the north coast, a conference centre along the lines of Durban’s ICC in the northern part of the province, a museum complex on the Isandlwana battlefield site and the Drakensberg cableway.

The cable way is sited in the Mnweni area, home of the amaZizi and amaNgwane communities, which forms a wedge into the World Heritage Site uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. The land is owned by the Ingonyama Trust and is mainly utilised by hikers from the Amangwane Mnweni Hiking and Cultural Centre.

Those present at Friday’s function included representatives of local and district municipalities, tourism operators and members of the amaZizi and amaNgwane.

“Who said the cable car only belongs to Cape Town?” queried Thulani Sibeko, mayor of the Okhahlamba Municipality. “Rural areas deserve a project of this magnitude.”

Sibeko said the cableway will lift people out of poverty and be a legacy for future generations that will benefit the “marginalised, the unemployed, the widows and orphans”.

According to Graham Muller of Graham Muller and Associates, who undertook the feasibility study, the cableway will greatly increase tourism to the area and bring more people to the world heritage site.

“It will provide access for young and old, and the disabled; not just for those who are adventurous.”

Muller said it would relieve negative impacts on the environment caused by hikers, such as erosion and litter and the income it generated could be used to fund the environmental management of the area.

Muller said 16 sites were initially considered and then narrowed down to four: Mount Amery, Ifidi Pass, Mnweni Pass and Ntonjelane Pass. Mount Amery proved the most suitable as it is only seven kilometres from the base station at Woodstock Dam, no roads have to be built, plus the site enjoys outstanding views and there is suitable terrain for the stations and for any pylons that have to be constructed to support the cableway.

The cost of the construction is estimated at between R420 million and R500 million, though this could significantly decrease if local steel is used. The operating cost would be R20 million a year.

It is expected to attract 300 000 visitors annually. Adults will pay R200 and children R100 to travel on the cableway. This will generate between R45 million and R60 million a year.

Muller said the project was financially viable and that a survey had found that the majority of tourists would use or consider using a cableway. “There is strong demand for this tourism product.”

Despite the huge financial returns there will only be 30 direct jobs generated once the cableway is complete. “It’s not great ,” acknowledged Muller, “but there would be spin-off jobs in craft shops, guiding, bed and breakfasts, hotels and the other businesses that would grow up as a result of the cableway … get the visitors here and the job opportunities will follow.”

The project was portrayed in a positive light at the function, although members of the communities living in the affected area expressed reservations. A member of the amaZizi community pointed out that wilderness initiatives had already generated 281 jobs.

But Mabuyakhulu asked people to consider the project with open minds and not preconceived opinions.

“The project will be driven by logic,” he said.

“Environmental and social implications will be considered. There is no way a responsible government would ruin our natural capital and natural assets.”

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