Drakensberg plan shot down

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The KwaZulu-Natal government has announced plans for the development of a 7km cableway from the proposed base station in the Mnweni valley, west of Bergville, to the summit station on Mount Amery in the Royal Natal National Park.

Durban - Two “fatal flaws” in the draft business plan for the proposed Drakensberg cableway have brought into question the commercial viability of the project.

A review of the plan by environmental groups vehemently opposed to the development said the cableway could not attract the projected 300 000 visitors needed each year to make it viable.

It also said that the “unrealistically high ticket price of R350” would make the R500 million, 7km cableway one of the most expensive in the world.

The plan was completed last year by Graham Muller Associates for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development and Tourism, which is spearheading the project. It followed MEC Michael Mabuyakhulu’s announcement that the project was being resurrected as a “game-changing” tourism development.

Three environmental organisations, Wilderness Action Group, the African Conservation Trust and Vertical Endeavour, commissioned a review of the business plan as the first stage of public consultations began.

The AmaZizi community, who live closest to the proposed site in the northern Berg, are opposed to the idea and say they have not been properly consulted.

The environmental organisations say that the plan is not appropriate for the pristine wilderness area. They have been working for years with the community to finish a plan to create a community-run nature reserve for the AmaZizi’s ancestral area.

Sheila Berry, the deputy chairwoman of the Wilderness Action Group, said: “There is rising concern over the manner in which certain aspects of this project have been conducted, as well as the accuracy of some of the information presented.

“The projected 300 000 visitors annually to make it commercially viable is unrealistic, given the Drakensberg’s remote location… The proposed ticket prices of R350 for adults and R200 for children would make the cableway among the most expensive… the Table Mountain cableway charges R205 for adults and R105 for children, and significantly attracts 855 000 annual visitors,” she said.

Environmentalist Nora Choveaux said that most successful cableways were constructed close to urban environments.

An online petition against the cableway and supported by the AmaZizi, has been launched. This came after the community were unable to take part in the department’s public consultation meeting in November because of the death of their chief, Inkosi Miya.

Department spokesman Bheko Madlala said all views on the cableway proposal were welcome.

“We have made the draft business plan public precisely because we want all stakeholders to be able to air their views on the matter,” he said. “Critically, the business plan is a working document and has, manifestly, not been finalised.

“The public meeting in Busingatha on November 23 was advertised extensively in KZN and was attended by more than 10 000 people, who all gave the project an emphatic thumbs up.” - The Mercury

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