Durban - Conservation groups have reacted cautiously to the latest plan to build a 7km cable car route to the top of the Drakensberg-uKhahlamba range.
This follows the release of a government-funded feasibility study earlier this week that suggests the project could cost about R500 million and attract up to 300 000 cable car visitors a year.
Garth Barnes, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) conservation director, said the society supported sustainable development and looked forward to working with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.
“Wessa does not believe in a preservationist approach that seeks to ring-fence nature for nature’s sake,” he said.
However, it would be important to ensure there was a stringent EIA process.
It was also essential to ensure the project was economically viable and would benefit communities.
Wessa supported responsible projects that could strengthen the economy and expose more people to the beauty of nature, stimulating a greater will to conserve.
The Mountain Club of South Africa has not commented yet.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife said it was aware that an 80-page feasibility study had been done, but added that it could not comment yet.
“Ezemvelo will study the report and be guided by the recommendations made,” said spokesperson Musa Mntambo.
But Johann Krog, the DA’s provincial spokesperson on economic development and tourism, warned that the project could become a “pie in the sky” scheme that could cost taxpayers a lot of money.
“The proposed cableway must be privately funded and form part of an integrated tourism development strategy within KZN – one which combines private, provincial, municipal and foreign investment along a long-term trajectory.”
The DA said it did not doubt that the provincial government had good intentions and hoped to see KZN thriving as a tourist destination.
However, he government first had to ensure the basics were in place to stimulate tourism in the region.
For example, the road between Winterton, Bergville and the Oliviershoek Pass had became “a notorious stretch of road due to a lack of basic maintenance”, Krog said.
l The report on the proposed Drakensberg cable car route in The Mercury yon Wednesday stated that the base station would be located in the Mnweni Valley. The project consultants have pointed out that the recommended site is an abandoned quarry at the western end of the road through Busingatha Valley, and not in the Mnweni Valley. - The Mercury
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