Durban - Interest was mounting from investors around the world in the proposed Drakensberg cable car project, Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala said on Sunday.
And some of the potential investors - including South Africans - keen to back the ambitious project, have converged in Durban for a two-day Drakensberg Cable Car Investment Conference and Exhibition at the International Conference Centre (ICC).
A 2014 feasibility study estimated it would cost about R500m to build the cable car.
Attending the conference are international cable car operators and potential investors, with global experts detailing their own cable car case studies.
The project has the full support of the local community where the cable car will be located, with Inkosi Njabulo Miya saying he was”very excited” such a project was planned for the area.
The cable car will 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.
It will be in a district with about 49 000 unemployed people. Zikalala and the uKhahlamba Municipality mayor, Thulani Sibeko, stressed that the project would help bring much-needed jobs to the region.
“Everyone is excited about the prospect of the cable car as it will bring opportunities,” said Sibeko.
The Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs has held meetings, conducted in the region, and one of the sessions was attended by more than 20 000 local people.
“There was robust participation with people indicating that a project of this magnitude would uplift livelihoods and the local economy,” the MEC told delegates.
The initiative - one of the strategic pillars in the provincial tourism master plan and a “lynchpin” to provincial economic growth - also has the backing of the Drakensberg Experience Tourism Association, which represents about 130 tourism interests.
“This really is a no-brainer. It will totally change the dynamics of the tourism industry,” said Chris Hearn, representing the association after the conference. “We have everything tourism-wise, but need something like a cable car to boost numbers.
“This is important infrastructure for the country. There is development on either side of where the proposed cable car will go, but nothing for the people in the middle.
“This is not about direct jobs, but about all the indirect jobs that will be created,” he said, adding that he hoped construction would start “as soon as possible”.
Zikalala said in an interview later, that the next step in the process would be the implementation phase, which would involve inviting private investors to invest and “join hands with us”.
Several private sector investors were at the conference and it was interesting to see that people wanted to invest their resources, he said.
Thrilled by the response from stakeholders to his department’s invitation to attend the conference, he predicted that the “game-changing” project would “forever alter our economic landscape”.
As well as unlocking the tourism potential of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg region, it would further enhance the competitiveness of the province.
Careful consideration had been made towards the development and vision of the project and a precinct would be developed to strike a sensitively engineered balance between eco-tourism and conservation-related facilities, top-class nature and cultural education interpretive centres, recreational, hospitality and commercial outlets, the MEC said.
There will be environmentally friendly links between the cable car and neighbouring attractions, providing access to the mountain region for groups of more adventurous and environmentally responsible eco-tourists.
There will be a tourism village at the bottom station and a shuttle service will transport visitors from the village and the bottom station. The cable car will run from the base station up a mountain spur adjacent to the Busingatha Valley to near the summit of Mount Amery where a top station will be constructed.
“The cable car will be taken up the escarpment on a 7km scenic trip which rises from the base station at 1 500m to the summit at 3 050m above sea level,” the MEC explained.
When operational, the Drakensberg cable car will help unlock trade opportunities between Lesotho and South Africa and further enhance links with the Free State, as well as providing opportunities to link the central and northern Drakensberg tourism nodes.