Drakensberg Cableway Proposal

the Facts, the History, the Truth

The idea of a building a cable car in the Drakensberg has existed since the 1990s. Various proposals and locations have been considered over the years, none of which has made it beyond the proposal stage.


History of the Busingatha Proposal


2012 - KZN provincial cabinet accepts the KZN Tourism Master Plan which proposes the development of key projects aimed at reviving the declining tourism in the province. These proposals include a Drakensberg cable car; the King Shaka statue near the Tugela River mouth; a monument or statue near the Durban Harbour breakwater entrance; a landmark bridge from the Bluff, over the harbour, linked to the Durban point area; major beach resorts on the coast; and a new Isandlwana Development Precinct in the historic KZN battlefields area.


11 May 2012 - The tender notice was issued for the appointment of a service provider for the development of a feasibility study and business plan for the proposal.


12 May 2012 - Mike Mabuyakhulu, KZN’s Economic Development and Tourism MEC, announced at the tourism Indaba 2012 that a detailed feasibility study on the proposed Drakensberg Cable Car would be undertaken. The proposal falls under KZN's Tourism Master Plan, which proposes the development of key projects aimed at reviving the declining tourism in the province.


Latter half of 2012 - Various sites in the Mnweni area were initially considered such as Tonyelana (Ntonjelana) Pass, North Peak of the Saddle and Ifidi Pass. AmaNgwane communities, in the Khokwane area of the Mnweni, who would be most directly affected by the cableway, strongly rejected it on the grounds that the land would no longer be theirs, and in anticipation of the proclamation of the community-managed nature reserve, which they believed to be a more sustainable future for their land and livelihood. An elder in the Mnweni Valley put it in a nutshell "The cableway will destroy our community and our wilderness."


4 April 2013 - The newly formed Drakensberg Cableway Project Steering Committee (DCPSC) held its first meeting in the Okhahlamba Municipality's council chamber in Bergville. The meeting was attended by representatives of DEDT, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Project, the Okhahlamba Development Agency and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Conspicuous by their absence were community representatives, even though by this stage it was obvious that the cableway would be proposed in one of the Northern Drakensberg's two Traditional Authority areas.


12 May 2013 - Mabuyakhulu announced at the Tourism Indaba 2013 that the feasibility study on the proposal would soon be released.


6 June 2013 - Another meeting was held by the DCPSC. Although not invited, communities had got wind of the meeting and attended - members of the AmaZizi Traditional Authority, AmaNgwane Traditional Authority, the Mnweni Wilderness Working Team and the AmaZizi Wilderness Group were by this stage aware of the proposal and concerned that they had still not been consulted.

Also attending, equally concerned but not invited, was Drakensberg conservationist M. Pfotenhauer who had heard of the meeting through community conservation groups. She raised concerns that Interested and Affected Parties (IAAPs) had not yet been consulted on the proposed cableway a year after the KZN Tourism Master Plan had been accepted and the announcement that a feasibility study for the cableway would be undertaken. Consultants suggested that she represent concerned IAAPs. She felt this was inappropriate given the range of IAAPs who were capable of voicing their particular concerns; however she would inform various NGOs on the outcome of the meeting.

Consultants announced that the Mnweni communities had made it clear that they did not want the cableway, that the Busingatha Valley was now the preferred site, and that no alternatives would be considered. Community representatives called for proper consultation with the traditional leadership.


26 July 2013 - A Cableway Stakeholder breakfast was hosted by DEDT at Alpine Heath in the Northern Drakensberg. A large gathering attended, comprising mainly representatives from local municipalities, near and far, and various business and tourism interests. A handful of AmaZizi izinduna were advised of the event while others were told they would be transported from Bergville at 9am but were only collected at 12pm. The few who had not yet gone home arrived as the meeting ended. Much of the morning was devoted to presentations on the merits of the proposed cableway. It was also announced that Mount Amery, on the boundary of the World Heritage Site, was the proposed top station.

Community wilderness groups who had hired taxis to attend the meeting were allowed only a few minutes to voice concerns shortly before closure. One of the izinduna managed to note that the late Nkosi Miya did not know that the cableway was proposed for Busingatha and that "we need to wait for Nkosi Miya to take a decision". At this point the meeting was closed despite the previous assurance that there would be time for further discussion.


30 July 2013 - The feasibility study was released by the appointed consultants Graham Muller Associates, in which the proposal was deemed to be "technically feasible".


7 August 2013 - Nkosi M. Miya of the AmaZizi died. He was known to be greatly supportive of community conservation initiatives from 2006. In 2011 he had reached consensus with Nkosi Hlongwane of the AmaNgwane on 45,000ha of land, comprising portions of both AmaZizi and AmaNgwane areas, to be proclaimed as a Nature Reserve and Wilderness Area between Royal Natal National Park and Cathedral Peak. Two draft Management Plans for the two portions of land were completed. A spokesperson for the royal family noted that "Contrary to the claims of some people Nkosi Miya never agreed to have the cableway in the area". His death left a vacuum which will only be filled when the new Nkosi is formally confirmed - initially anticipated within four to six months but now only anticipated sometime before the end of 2014.


10 September 2013 - KZN Tourism Master Plan was officially launched.


20 September 2013 - Updated technical report and pre-feasibility study was released by Kuka Mining Logistics and submitted to Graham Muller Associates.


14 October 2013 - The final draft business plan for the proposal was released by Graham Muller Associates for the DEDT.


October - December 2013 - Several organisations and individuals released preliminary comments on the study document and expressed concern over the proposal, among these were African Conservation Trust, Wilderness Action Group and Vertical Endeavour.


23 November 2013 - A mass meeting is held in the Busingatha as part of the DEDT's community consultation. According to different reports between 10 000 - 15 000 people were present. The DEDT viewed this event as community consultation and as an "overwhelming endorsement" from the locals of the proposal. The AmaZizi royal family however issued a press release stating that they were not consulted about the proposal, or about the meeting. On the day of the meeting they were making funeral arrangements for Mr. S.W.Miya, a brother of the late Nkosi and so were still in mourning for both the late Nkosi and his brother.

Traditional protocol requires a period of mourning for all community members after the death of an Inkosi or a member of his family. The press release expressed the outrage of the royal family at the "complete disrespect" of DEDT in holding a mass gathering "with loudspeakers blaring" while they were making funeral preparations. They also reported that many buses were used to transport people in to the meeting from other municipalities as far away as Estcourt. They question the validity of the consultation since they and many of the AmaZizi were in mourning and did not attend the meeting. Various organisations also questioned the timing and validity of the event as true and proper community consultation.


5 December 2013 - A business breakfast meeting was held at Champagne Sports Resort in the Drakensberg. The meeting was announced in the media only 48 hours prior to the event. Many individuals and organisations could not attend because of late notice and several objections were lodged.

Briefly, Mabuyakhulu explained that only cableway sites outside of the World Heritage Site were considered because permission is simpler outside a World Heritage Site and there are "fewer hurdles". He also explained that the required visitor figures could easily be achieved since 4 million vehicle pass through the Tugela Toll Plaza annually, which, at 4 occupants per vehicle, presents 12 million potential visitors. He went on to say that the cableway will attract a new kind of tourist, seeking night life, action, music, discos - the younger more buzz orientated tourist. A tourism village or node will be created at the base station in the Busingatha Valley to accommodate the new breed of tourist.


12 December 2013 - This site was launched.


31 December 2013 - A review of the final draft business plan was released by Newman Tax and Accounting Services as commissioned by African Conservation Trust and Wilderness Action Group. Amongst several findings, two of the most critical were: the projected volume of 300 000 visitors per annum was not supported by statistics, market research or detailed and supported calculations; and the ticket prices of R350 per adult and R200 per child would be in excess of the majority of cableways around the world, and no market research or statistics had been presented to indicate that the target market would be willing to spend this. The success of the cableway lies primarily in these two aspects and it was found that the business plan did not adequately address them. No formal response was ever received from the DEDT, other than in the media reports on the review, one of which reported that DEDT was going to review its business plan.


21 January 2014

The website domain name "drakensbergcablecar.co.za" was registered by Blackvoice Media Group for what was to be the first of several websites created for the DEDTEA on the proposal. The website was taken offline roughly during 2016.

30 January 2014 - A media briefing was held by the DEDT in which it was announced that the cableway may be extended into Lesotho, and that consultations with counterparts in Lesotho and the Free State province had been undertaken. The public participation process was also extended to February 14. They were looking to appoint a developer who would steer the project and help identify a suitable strategic partner. Promises were made that UNESCO would be informed of the proposal. The launching of a website by the DEDT about the cable car was also announced.


10 February 2014 - A statement by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife was released in the media highlighting several concerns over the proposal. They warned that the cableway could jeopardise the status of the neighbouring World Heritage Site and interfere with plans to join up fragments of the mountain wilderness area. The business plan was said to be "vague" in how the impacts of visitors at the top station would be managed, and the impact on the endangered Bearded and Cape vultures that nested in the vicinity was flagged as a major concern. The proposed annual visitor figures of 300 000, and the all-round feasibility of the proposal, would have to be carefully checked by experts. The proposed ticket price was said to be "prohibitively expensive". They said it is undesirable to have a failed project ("white elephant") in and abutting the World Heritage Site.


14 February 2014 - The public participation process supposedly ended. With the launch of this process and its agenda having been obscure, it is not clear on what further consultation was even done after the extension from 31 December 2015.


14 February 2014 - The World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, to request clarification on the information received regarding a proposal to construct a cableway in close proximity to the property. In its letter, the World Heritage Centre placed emphasis on the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for all proposals to assess impacts on the OUV of the property, including its integrity.

25 March 2014 - A meeting was held between the AmaZizi Tribal Council and Mabuyakhulu.


16 April 2014 - The government of South Africa submitted a letter of reply to the World Heritage Centre, stating that a feasibility study had been initiated and confirmed that an EIA will be conducted and that the World Heritage Centre would be informed of the EIA findings.


7 May 2014 - General elections were held in South Africa. The KZN provincial cabinet was reshuffled and in a questionable move, environmental affairs was placed under the Department of Economic Affairs and Tourism (DEDT), which was subsequently renamed the Department of Economic Affairs, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DEDTEA).


15 August 2014 - In the budget policy speech, Mabuyakhulu announced that unstable Ithala Development Finance Corporation is the be the project developer tasked with "the responsibility of initiating the process of undertaking the scanning of an appropriate business model and developing the terms of reference that would correctly influence the content of the EIA to be presented to appropriate authorities." He also indicated that a delegation would be visiting other cableways around the world.


9 May 2015 - Mabuyakhulu mentioned the proposal in his speech at the Tourism Indaba breakfast. He presented a new figure of 1200 new jobs which would be created as a result of the business boost that the cableway was expected to stimulate. No substantiation of how this figure was derived is available at present.

12 May 2015 - During his budget, Mabuyakhulu provided the following details (some already known):
• A conference would be hosted later in the year to which international cable car operators would be invited to share their experiences. It would also. It would also look at new activities and potential markets for the area, explore manufacturing options, and provide a platform for networking and to engage potential investors.
• The conference would be a replacement of the controversial world tour of cable cars by selected officials which was proposed previously.
• The project would be fast-tracked.
• Ithala had been appointed to oversee the EIA.
• A task team had been formed to provide "strategic direction" for the project.

Earlier in the year much objection had been raised about the proposed world tour in which selected officials were to visit various cable car operations. The DA estimated that the tour would amount to a cost of R4.6 million, which was refuted by the DEDTEA but no official breakdown has been released. The DA welcomed the decision to cancel the tour but was still concerned that conference would be conducted for a proposal that did not have a strong financial viability. They also raised strong concerns that local communities, environmentalists and critics of the cableway appeared to have been "shunned" by Mabuyakhulu, and had not been listed as those invited to the conference. In a subsequent statement, the DEDTEA indicated that anyone was welcome at the conference, including critics of the proposal.

mid May 2015 - A Request For Proposal (RFP) was released by the DEDTEA and Ithala, inviting bids in the appointment of a consultancy service which will conduct the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposal.

~ 2nd quarter of 2016

Almost 3 years after the death of Nkosi EM Miya of the AmaZizi, his successor was finally inaugurated. The reason for the long delay is not clear. One only wishes the AmaZizi could have had strong, stable leadership during this critical time in their modern-day history.

17 Feb 2016

A second website domain name, www.drakensbergcablecar.org.za, was registered under the name of The Conference Company. The website was announced in March but taken offline again soon after.

March 2016 - A very sudden media announcement, released approximately on 22 March, indicated the anticipated cable car conference and exhibition was to be held 03-05 April (less than 2 weeks after the announcement). Conspicuously, attendance was by invitation only. Even though the DEBTEA had given assurances in 2015 that all interested parties would be "more than welcome to attend", and that "all were welcome at the table of ideas", relevant organisations and community groups were not extended an invitation.

The details were provided on a new website: www.drakensbergcablecar.org.za (which appears to have been a replacement of the former website: www.drakensbergcablecar.co.za). The conference and website were managed by an agency called The Conference Company.

The website stated:
The Conference will feature international speakers and participants who have vast experience in developing, funding and managing similar Cable Cars at a global level. It will thus afford us an opportunity to use international best practice as a constant reference point as we embark upon our proposed cable car project within the Drakensberg-uKhahlamba-Maloti Mountains. Local stakeholders will also be invited to participate and share their knowledge and expectations of the area, in order that a robust discussion with a solution driven approach can take place.

But then it went on to say:
The Conference is by invitation only with limited numbers for specific delegates, focus groups as well as international and local stakeholders. The Conference will include participants who represent: cable car operators, potential investors and developers, environmental agencies and community groups Should you feel you would be able to add great value to the conference deliberations and would like to participate, you may complete the attached link for consideration. The completion of this link does not guarantee inclusion. Please click the following link.(a link was never provided)
The website indicated that the submissions deadline for requests to be considered for invitation was 15 May (even though the event was only announced a week after the date).

Almost as suddenly as the announcement was made, it was retracted. Some media houses even unpublished their online articles on the announcement. The conference was postponed to a later date due to 'logistical reasons', according to the DEDTEA spokesperson. Unconfirmed reports were that attendance of the conference was poor, since only 2 of the listed stakeholders were due to attend. It was also said that there has been a disagreement between the DEDTEA and The Conference Company. Soon after, the new launched website was taken offline.

May 2016

The previous Request For Proposal (RFP) inviting bids in the appointment of a consultancy service which would conduct the Environmental Impacy Assessment (EIA) was retracted. It was replaced by a new tender for another feasibility study and full development of base technical and regulatory documents. It was also apparent that the KwaZulu-Natal Property Development Holdings (KPDH) had taken over the project from Ihthala. This raised questions about why a new feasibility study was being done. No reason was offered at the time. Speculation was that the need for multi-disciplinary, specialist studies was not well understood at first. Only in September 2016, through a written reply to queries from the Democratic Alliance, was it revealed that the original studies "did not address key technical and regulatory questions relevant for applying for an EIA, and thus the current EIA has been put on hold".

20 May 2016

A third website domain name, www.drakensbergcablecar.com, was registered under the name of Jodash Kalidass.

06 June 2016

Economic Development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu, the driving force behind the Busingatha Proposal was 'recalled' by the ANC, along with 3 other MECs. Towards the end of May KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu had been axed by the same and replaced by Willies Mchunu who subsequently reshuffled the provincial cabinet. Mabuyakhulu was replaced by Sihle Zikalala. A few days later Zikalala indicated his intentions to speed up EIA processes to fast-track big business developments in the province. He also stated that the incorporation of the environmental affairs portfolio into the economic development and tourism portfolio, in 2014, was done to create "better linkages between the environment and economic development". His support for the cable car proposal also soon became apparent.

20-21 June 2016

The long anticipated conference was held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban. A new website was again created for the event: www.drakensbergcablecar.com. Invitation was again by invitation only. The stated objectives of the conference were to provide a platform for:
• For the engagement with potential investors.
• To allow all delegates to share environmental issues.
• To allow the exploration of all various manufacturing options which will enable a benchmark to obtain different intricacies for the cable car concept, gain strategic direction and best practice.
• As well as learning from successes and failures of similar projects.

Speaks at the conference included:

  • Desmond Golding (HOD Economic Development, Environment and Tourism)
  • Councillor Sibeko
  • MEC Sihle Zikalala
  • iNkosi Miya (the new elected iNkosi of the AmaZizi indicated his support for the proposal at the conference, which was a marked departure from the standpoint of his predecessor and previous statements released by the royal family)
  • Vahe Baghdasaryan (Director and Community Development Manager - Wings of Tatev , Armenia)
  • Zeev Margalit (Masada Cableway in Israel - Director of the Department of Conservation and Development to Israel's Nature and Parks Authority)
  • Adrian Bold (Exec. Director, Mount Wellington Cableway Co., Hobart, Tasmania, Australia)
  • Gillian Saunders (specialist in Tourism)
  • Dominic Bosio (Export Sales Director, LEITNER Ropeways)
  • Graham Muller (Graham Muller Associates)
  • Oscar Mthimkhulu (EKZNW)
  • Siza Sibanda (Uthukela Development Projects)

Detailed notes were taken by delegates from the KZN Section of the Mountain Club of South Africa, which are available in the Documents section. Some of the main learning points they listed are quoted below:

  • As stated on more than one occasion during the conference "the train has left the station". One had to be there to experience the build-up and expectations towards this perceived and much promoted "great new development" that was going to "abolish poverty and create many jobs".
  • It was the first indication of transparency (voiced in a statement once by a facilitator at the dinner and then on the concluding day) that the cable car itself would not be sustainable, nor create all the jobs expected, but that these would come from all the tourism initiatives and developments that would follow on as a result of the cable car.
  • A key consideration is the as yet un-quantified development cost, operations (and marketing) cost and maintenance costs. All the cable way speakers emphasised the maintenance cost. It is clear that the people pushing the project have no idea of what they are getting us all into. Experience and the lack of it are important factors.
  • Politics have changed with the new Inkosi of the Amazizi now being in favour of the development. There is still much political intrigue between the Amazizi and the Amangwane communities and the viewpoint of the leadership of these two communities on the proposed alternative tourism development plan has yet to be confirmed.

12 September 2016

A written reply from Desmond Golding (HOD of KZN DEDTEA) to Ann McDonnell, the DA's spokeswoman on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), was released, revealing the following:

  • R1 147 752.00 has been spent on the pre-feasibility studies and the business plan.
  • These studies did not address key technical and regulatory questions relevant for applying for an EIA, and thus the current EIA has been put on hold.
  • A tender is currently open for another feasibility study and full development of base technical and regulatory documents for the development of the cable car.
  • The KwaZulu-Natal Property Development Holdings (KPDH) have taken over the project from Ihthala and will finance the base studies for the project, for which an amount of R3 600 000 has been set aside.
  • The project was first conceptualized in 2005 through a Feasibility study that was commissioned by the Development Bank of South Africa; the proposed site was not feasible for the development of a cable car.
  • R 1 035 181.27 was spent on the Cable Car Investment Conference held in June 2016.
  • The Cape Town Cable Car company was consulted separately prior to the conference and inputs were provided hence they were not invited to the conference.

Soon after, the DA released this information in a media statement.