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Durban - The tarring of Sani Pass has been approved by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, the KwaZulu-Natal transport department announced on Wednesday.
The road, famed for being a gruelling 4x4 vehicle drive, links Underberg with Mokhotlong.
KwaZulu-Natal transport MEC Willies Mchunu said that the tarring of the road would improve trade relations between South Africa and Lesotho.
“As well, seamless and legal movement of people between the two countries will help strengthen our economic ties, grow shared opportunities and ensure sustainable and mutually beneficial development for both countries,” said Mchunu.
The announcement that the road would be tarred follows a lengthy opposition campaign from tour operators and community members in the Underberg area.
Environmental groups were also at loggerheads over the benefit of having the road tarred.
The Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa was one of the groups opposed while the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife were in favour of the project.
“From an environmental perspective, it makes economic sense to upgrade the road from gravel to tar as gravel roads require regular maintenance every two years. Furthermore, retaining the road in its gravel state will actually negatively impact the surrounding environment,” said Mchunu.
Russel Suchet, a tour operator, said: “We are extremely disappointed.”
He had been a part of a concerted effort to keep the top portion of the pass gravel.
He said that the appeal of the pass was its gravel status.
Initially when the tarring of the pass had been mooted many locals opposed the proposal.
The Department of Environmental Affairs approved the upgrading of the road as long as the final 5km stretch up the pass to the border post remained gravel.
Mchunu said that the total cost of upgrading the 19km from Old Good Hope Trading Post to the summit of the Sani Pass at the border post would cost R887 million. - Sapa