While Table Mountain seeks travel awards, criminals eye hikers for rewards
Cape Town - As the City seeks to garner support to have Table Mountain win as the best travel destination in Africa at the World Travel Awards, the hiking fraternity has raised concerns that crime on the mountain might escalate this summer season, pointing fingers at SA National Parks (SANParks) for lack of security.
Friends of Table Mountain (FOTM) said SANParks refused to increase security. They were speaking on the same day that Blessing Bveni appeared in the Cape Town High Court accused of murdering two hikers and attacking 10 others on the mountain.
Doug Notten, 50, was stabbed to death on February 20, 2018 while walking on a mountain path near Fish Hoek with his wife Julia, who escaped unharmed.
Table Mountain Safety Action Group chairperson Andre van Schalkwyk said as long as the same management still runs the park, “there won’t be any change in terms of safety”.
Van Schalkwyk said he decided to pull himself out of discussions with SANParks management “because they did not want to take us into consideration, and whatever they discussed, it was never implemented”.
FOTM leader Andy Davies said they acknowledged that as an open access park, Table Mountain National Park was subject to the social inequalities of the communities that surrounded it.
FOTM members form part of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries task teams structure established in March.
Davies said reports had revealed that over a 15-plus year period, people were no longer able to enjoy the park as a sanctuary. He said hiking or running alone carried risk.
“The crime we have seen in our park has been brutal - it has impacted on individuals and groups, and left families bereft at the loss of loved ones.”
Davies said the impact was not just on locals - the perception that those crimes created in the minds of visitors, particularly international tourists could, and would, have a devastating impact on the local economy.
He pointed to SANParks’ 2015/25 TMNP Management Plan which stated that safety and security for all visitors must be ensured and that threats to its visitors be minimised by implementing a safety and security plan.
“No one, however, seems to have ever seen this plan,” Davies said.
“One of the task teams appointed by the minister deals specifically with safety and security and we expected this issue would be high on SANParks’ agenda. However, SANParks have made little effort to present the current state of safety and security.”
He said they had also failed to discuss how SANParks and the public could work together to improve security.
Davies said FOTM was concerned that with no change, visitors and tourists to TMNP would continue to be mugged, assaulted and murdered.
Mountain biker Robert Vogel said many users and interest groups did an increasing amount of work on SANParks’ behalf.
Vogel said mountain bikers had also ploughed close on R2million into the park, building and maintaining their own trails and assisting with security, but would still have to pay for activity permits.
Vogel questioned both the legality of the permit system in light of the terms of the agreement and the cumbersome manner in which it was managed.
SANParks former employee Alfrido Dixon, who is based within the park as a ranger, said he understood that SANParks had ungraded its safety measures after he complained about mismanagement and safety.
SANParks spokesperson Lauren Howard-Clayton said TMNP, together with various stakeholders including the City’s law enforcement, police, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, security groups and local neighbourhood watch groups, had embarked on a joint operation approach in terms of patrols and surveillance to ensure the safety of visitors to the park.
She said their rangers had, and would continue to work on rotational shifts, mapping out and patrolling various hot spot areas within TMNP.
Howard-Clayton said from the previous financial year they recorded nine criminal incidents within the TMNP.
She said the FOTM structure was formed just before the nationwide lockdown and during this time, the terms of reference for those task teams had not materialised.
She added that SANParks remained committed to dealing with the issues raised within the structures and would invite FOTM back to the table to discuss and conclude the process further.
“It is imperative to note that the chief executive of the national parks and management continues to engage and meet these structures until a permanent structure is formalised.”
She said it was for that reason that they believed any issues should be first dealt within that structure.