Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development and Tourism has come under fire for a plan to send a delegation on a “jaunt” to four overseas countries to view their cable cars.
The planned trip has not been discussed by the department’s portfolio committee, as is the norm, according to opposition political parties. The department on Sunday confirmed it would undertake an international “study tour” on the proposed building of a cable car in the Drakensberg.
Details including the departure date were yet to be finalised. But the Daily News understands the department will visit Cape Town’s Table Mountain, Australia’s Cairns Skyrail, China’s Huanshan Cableway, Masada Cableway in Israel and Switzerland’s Blatten Cableway.
The trip is in support of the controversial Berg cable car project first mooted in 1994, opposed by some communities in the Drakensberg and environmental activists.
Department spokesman, Bheko Madlala, said the tour was intended to gain a first-hand account of how cableways operated, particularly those in eco-sensitive areas.
“This will give the province a good idea of how to proceed with the project locally and how to balance the economic potential of the project and the issues of environmental preservation.”
Asked for more details, such as the number of people going on the trip and the cost implications, Madlala said: “Logistical issues… are still being finalised.”
He said that after numerous consultations, feasibility studies, and public participations, which came to a close last February, the government had given the project the go-ahead.
A study, made public last July, found it was feasible to build the cable car in the Busingatha site at Mount Amery, in the Drakensberg.
The site had minimal need for road construction, a gondola could be used for access from the existing road, and the terrain was adequate, the study found. The site also had “outstanding” views and was outside any world heritage sites.
DA MPL Ann McDonnell, a member of the Economic Development and Tourism portfolio committee, said the delegation would include individuals from department entities such as Ithala, KZN Trade and Industry, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Tourism KZN, iSimangaliso Wetlands Park Authority, representatives from the feasibility study author, Graham Muller and Associates, and other officials.
“This jaunt is totally unnecessary and completely unjustifiable,” McDonnell said.
“We live in an age of technology – information regarding cableways and cable cars must be available on the internet. The trip is to be funded by the R1.1 million budget set aside for the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project.
“The cost is likely to exceed the budgeted amount.”
Madlala hit back, saying it was everyone’s duty to look at ways of stimulating the province’s tourism sector. “This project will add to the cornucopia of tourism offerings in the province,” he said.
“The MEC firmly believes that all of us, including the DA and those who are opposed to the project, are welcome (at) the table of ideas to discuss how and what we need to do – given the changing nature of the global tourism landscape – to claim a slice of the lucrative global tourism cake.
“That demands of us the maturity to resist the temptation to engage in a daily ritual of issuing uninformed but sensational statements…
“The need to build a globally competitive tourism industry in the province is bigger than the sum total of our narrow political ambitions.”
Blessed Gwala, the IFP’s member of the provincial legislature, also said that information about existing cable cars could be easily sourced from the internet.