Drakensberg cableway - a 'game changer'

Pietermaritzburg - "A GAME changer" is how Michael Mabuyakhulu, KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development and Tourism MEC, described the proposed R500?million Drakensberg cableway project yesterday.

"It will change the tourism landscape not only for KwaZulu-Natal, but for our neighbours in the Free State and in Lesotho."

Mabuyakhulu was speaking at the official release of the feasibility study for the project at Durban's Hilton hotel, following its presentation last Friday to local stakeholders in the Drakensberg.

Mount Amery was identified as the summit terminus for the proposed cableway, with the base station located near Woodstock Dam, a distance of approximately seven kilometres.

The cableway can be constructed either in a single span or, the cheaper option, with supporting pylons.

The release of the study, undertaken by Graham Muller and Associates, sees the beginning of a four-month consultation process with stakeholders, including the local community.

Parallel to this process a business plan will be drawn up. These processes should be completed by December. Thereafter, a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) will be done.

"Community support is key to the success of the project," said Graham Muller.

The cableway impacts mainly on the amaZizi community, who live in the Busingatha valley section of the Mnweni area of the Drakensberg, which is also home to the amaNgwane community.

At last Friday's meeting, a member of the amaZizi community, who expressed reservations about the project, received a cool reception and an induna of the amaZizi said that what she said should be put aside, as the woman did not have the authority to speak.

Asked by The Witness how the consultants and the Economic Development Department would consult with the entire community and prevent intimidation, Mabuyakhulu said they would hold mass meetings.

"We will not only consult with the inkosi. We will let everybody be heard, even those with contrary views. This is a democracy."

People must engage with the report, he said.

"Now the study is available, people must engage with what it says and not with their perceptions."

Provincial government as well as local and district municipalities are solidly behind the project.

"We think this project is in the best interests of [KZN] and Free State and Lesotho," said Mabuyakhulu.

"But it must be undertaken in a balanced manner and not at the expense of ruining the natural asset that we have.

"We don't want to ram this thing through without the buy-in of major stakeholders."

Addressing concerns about the ¬impact of the project on the Drakens¬berg's World Heritage Site status, Mabuyakhulu emphasised that the cableway was outside the World Heritage Site uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.

"I have not found any contradiction between a cableway and the status of those sites as per Unesco approval. There is nothing that says if you have a world heritage site you can't have a cable car."

The upgrade of the R74 is seen as a key feature of the project.

The road from the Free State is currently impassable and this has resulted in a negative economic impact on businesses in the area. For example Little Switzerland hotel has closed.

Mabuyakhulu said money had been made available in the Free State to upgrade the R74.

But will the people come? According to Muller, 135?000 people visited the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife resorts of the northern Drakensberg last year and 41?000 people visited the Golden Gate National Park in the Free State.

In an earlier survey, domestic and foreign tourists indicated they would be "very likely" or "fairly likely" to use the cableway.

However, Muller said what is envisaged as "a world-class tourist facility" will only generate 35 direct jobs.

"But the real jobs impact will be in hundreds if not thousands in the ancillary projects that come about as a result of the cableway."

These would include hotels, museums, adventure sport and guiding operations.

"The real benefit of the project is getting tourists to the Berg," said Muller. "Attract the footfall and you will generate the bucks ...

"A sleepy subsistence rural community will become a buzzing tourism hub."

• The feasibility study will be made available at: www.kznded.gov.za

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