Mike Mabuyakhulu

Durban -

The KwaZulu-Natal government’s planned cable car route to the top of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains may be extended to reach into Lesotho with the aim of giving tourists the option of skiing down snow capped peaks.

Economic Development and Tourism MEC, Michael Mabuyakhulu, said on Thursday that the extension would add 5km to the proposed route and would open up a host of opportunities for tourists and investors.

It is not known, however, how much the added route would cost as a feasibility study had yet to be done, Mabuyakhulu said.

Mabuyakhulu said that his department had met officials from Lesotho and the Free State who had shown support for the project.

He said his department planned to assist the Lesotho government on the feasibility of extending the cableway.

However, it was imperative that investors came on board, the MEC said.

“As the government of KZN we want there to be a cable car but we also want to go to the market and entice strategic investors to come into this project. It is not going to be government mainly spending money,” Mabuyakhulu said. “We may spend money on the issues of infrastructure that requires government to do, which in my view will be money well invested.”

Mabuyakhulu said the Afri Ski resort was about 25km from the site of the project, but there was talk of moving it closer to the cableway.

“Our intention is that it must be possible to create an environment that when you come to the Drakensberg you must be able to enjoy all that it offers, inclusive of what the Lesotho side has to offer. The Basotho people are in the process of deciding if there is a need for a new site for the ski resort that may be closer to where the project is. So these are the things we are currently exploring,” he said. “We believe it will enhance the project.”

A feasibility study on the SA side estimated it would cost R500 million to build a cable car. Predictions were made that it would attract more than 300 000 tourists a year and rake in millions in revenue.

It would be situated between the Royal Natal National Park and Cathedral Peak, with its base site in the Busingatha Valley, and ascending to the summit of Mount Amery.

Mabuyakhulu said the extension of the cable car would not affect where it would summit.

He said public consultations into the project were still ongoing and his department had held a meeting with affected communities in November that had been attended by 10 000 people.

The public consultations were meant to end in December, but the death of Nelson Mandela required the process be extended until February 14.

While critics have claimed that the proposed R350 for a ticket was high, Mabuyakhulu said it was not when compared to other tourist attractions around the country.

He said that by the end of February they hoped to have a “reworked” business plan on the project.

“We are also in the process of commissioning a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the site. The proximity of the site to the World Heritage Site and the sensitivity of the Drakensberg landscape call for the development of the EIA. The department is working with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the national Department of Tourism and the national Department of Environmental Affairs to discuss the project, its implications to the World Heritage Site and the EIA process,” he said, adding that the actual site of the project was not part of the World Heritage Site.

The EIA process was expected to begin in March.

Mabuyakhulu said they also planned to start the process of “market testing” before the end of February and would appoint a project developer who will steer the project.

“Some of the options we are mulling over are whether to go on an open tender process or to embark on a limited tender process. This process will go simultaneously with the environmental impact assessment,” the MEC said. “We hope that by the end of August or September we would have found our strategic partner.”