Boon or bane for the berg?
How does one create a three-kilometre cable car that will stimulate interest in the Drakensberg, but not spoil the beauty of this World Heritage Site?
KwaZulu-Natal’s mountains are among 82 sites in Africa, and the only mixed natural/cultural one of eight sites in this country, that enjoy the prestigious global seal.
There is nothing wrong with hopes to exploit them. But they are unwelcome when efforts to boost traffic harms their integrity and their long-term appeal.
Any tourism efforts that jeopardise such features should be quickly dumped.
The idea, around for years, hardened into an advertisement for service providers to come up with a feasibility study for a cable car somewhere in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.
Movement on the project was announced at the weekend at the tourism Indaba in Durban by tourism MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu. He spoke of a cableway climbing 1 300m, offering expansive views of KZN, Lesotho and the Free State. It would unlock tourism potential, he said, bring jobs, and put the province on the big map.
The way Mabuyakhulu told it, it had exciting benefits. Craig Saunders, owner of a cableway opening in two weeks at Hartbeespoort Dam west of Pretoria, added a sobering note: financing, the environment and location were key, and it would have to fill multiple gondolas to be viable.
Apart from the cables, pylons and base stations, there are the associated developments – roads, hotels, restaurants and so on. Then there is the wear at the summit by tourists traipsing around the mountain top. Will all of this scar the Berg?
It is a huge project, with potential both rich and damaging. Knee-jerk responses for and against will not be helpful. Arguments can at this stage be based only on instinct – not enough for a verdict.
There is no rush, so thorough environmental and business studies are essential before it goes any further.