Remove Burma Road portage?

2020-02-26 06:06
Dusi title-chasers Sbonelo Khwela (front) and Thulani Mbanjwa. PHOTO: anthony grote

Dusi title-chasers Sbonelo Khwela (front) and Thulani Mbanjwa. PHOTO: anthony grote

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DUSI Canoe Marathon stars Sbonelo Khwela, Thulani Mbanjwa and Banetse Nkhoesa have appealed to the race organisers to revisit a decision to remove the iconic Burma Road portage option from next week’s competition.

The concerned paddlers, who all happen to be backed by Change a Life and Euro Steel, say that last week’s resolution regarding Burma Road on the final stage of the three-day challenge changes the nature of the Dusi — and they have been given little time to adapt race tactics already settled on.

The move, made for safety reasons because of a number of thefts and muggings down the years, also appears to trim the title hopes of those paddling teams who are very strong runners, including Khwela and Mbanjwa.

But the race organisers, led by chairman Shane le Breton, may only have a positive response ahead of next year’s competition. Mbanjwa, who won the K2 title in 2008 with Martin Dreyer in record time, said yesterday that he could hardly believe his ears when news about Burma Road came out. “I was very disappointed to hear about that just two weeks before the race. Burma Road portage is very important, as all the leading guys have been taking it for years,” he said. “Now, to paddle around makes the race a bit tougher because we don’t really know the river in that area because we have taken the portage option for so many years. And, we have not been able to test the river since the decision was made because of low water there. “I wish the organisers could find a way to change their decision. I am even willing to help them talk to the local people at Burma Road to help us with safety just for that one day during the race.”

Mbanjwa’s race partner Khwela, who has finished on the podium multiple times in both K2 and K1, and Nkhoesa, who will be racing with the less experienced Msawenkosi Mtolo next week, backed veteran Mbanjwa’s comments and called on the organisers to go and dig deep for money to hire private security for the portage in question. Said Khwela: “Having used the Burma portage for about the last 12 years, I have forgotten what the rapids there look like. We will really only be able to see what is going on there on the final day of racing because there should be more water there than there is now.”

However, 2020 Dusi chairperson Le Breton said that while his race committee at the Natal Canoe Club understood the feelings of the paddlers, there was little they could do this year. He said it was actually very difficult to have discussions with the relevant authorities, including local tribal chiefs, on the safety issue, but plans would definitely be made to look into the possibility of bringing back the Burma Road portage next year.

“It is not as simple as just re-opening it and putting security guards in place,” he said. “The SAPS obviously categorise the risk profile of your event and see whether it is small, medium or large, or whatever their measurement scales are.

“Because we go over such a stretch of land, 120 kilometres for the Dusi, there are multiple variables in play.

“One of the areas they have highlighted in the past has been Burma due to the accessibility and manpower concerns, because of the six or seven incidents we have had over the past four to five years.

“If the chap [thug] wants to get away, he will get away [because of the local geography], so to protect okes in terms of line of sight, you need a good few hundred security guards. “Safety is expensive and you also can’t bring external security into the area, as you have to deal with the local people and they all want to be involved, making things a bit harder. “The police said to us that if it was their event, they would not use Burma. We have been engaging with people in the area, but have not reached a point where we can say safety is guaranteed there for next week’s race.”

However, there is some consolation for the paddlers in terms of water releases for all three days of next week’s competition having confirmed by Le Breton.

Umgeni Water will release water from Henley Dam, Nagle Dam and Inanda Dam for each day’s racing respectively. This includes a release of 17 cubic metres per second (cumecs) from Inanda Dam on the final day of competition next Saturday.

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