Cape Town – The little Karoo town of Oudtshoorn could be facing a tourism disaster, as municipal debt could lead to the closure of the Cango Caves, the area’s main visitor attraction.
Netwerk24 reports that tourism role players raised their concern on Monday after it came to light that the Oudtshoorn municipality still owes a service provider R3m for the upgrading of electric and lighting equipment in the caves.
According to Hein Gerstner, who has been managing the caves for 22 years, the municipality is three months in arrears with payments for the upgraded lighting.
Gerstner explained that if the service provider does not receive its payment, the equipment remains its property, which means they can choose to remove the lighting if needs be.
Should such a decision be made, tourism to the caves would not be able to go ahead, which would be a massive blow to the town and surrounding areas.
Niel Els, president of Oudtshoorn and De Rust’s tourism authority said the region could not afford to lose the caves, which are also a World Heritage Site, and should they ever be closed down, the whole of the southern Cape will be affected.
The caves financial woes first came to light in mid-2014 when it emerged that the municipality had apparently removed R16m from an investment account that was set up a number of years ago to help market and maintain the Cango Caves.
The municipality responded by saying that they owned the caves and that the amount had been set aside for maintenance work.
Gerstner, however , said that the caves were not the municipality’s property and that their management of the heritage site was questionable.
The caves have been drawing tourists to the area since 1806 and remain one of South Africa’s main attractions.