Drakensberg Cableway Proposal

the Facts, the History, the Truth

Both sides of the debate are presented on this site. On this page an attempt is made to summarise the debate by presenting the key points in the motivation for and the objection to the proposal. This summary draws on statements and documentation which are all available on the Media Coverage and Statements & Documents pages.

Motivations for the proposal

The province of KwaZulu-Natal-Natal, in order to ensure that it sharpens its competitive and comparative edge as a tourist attraction, put together a 20 year tourism master plan in which it identified key projects that needed to be pursued for the province to put the province at the apex of the global tourism market. As part of the plan, six iconic catalytic projects, including the Drakensberg Cable Car, were identified as being critical for unlocking the potential of the tourism industry in KwaZulu-Natal. The other projects include the statue of King Shaka; the Bluff Bridge and the Isandlwana Development Precinct.

The Drakensberg Cableway is envisioned as a world-class tourism attraction in the Busingatha Valley, just south of Royal Natal National Park, in Drakensberg. It is envisaged that this will be a one of a kind attraction providing tourists of all ages and physical prowess the opportunity to ascend in comfort and safety close to the summit of Mount Amery where visitors will be able to enjoy (on most days) extensive vistas of the Drakensberg escarpment top and of the valleys below.

The mountains are a key tourist attraction and one that should be accessible to all who want to enjoy their beauty. This includes tourists with limited time, people with disabilities and those less adventurous tourists. Additionally increased visitor numbers are putting strain on the environmentally limited existing access routes to the escarpment. It is in the best interests of the World Heritage Site that many more visitors are able to enjoy the scenic beauty of the escarpment in an environmentally sustainable manner, rather than the limited numbers of hikers, horse riders and donkey trains presently capable of climbing its rugged escarpment passes and peaks and people who are able to afford a helicopter flip.

Critically, this project will have domino development effects in the area. These include, among others, a proposed tranquil resort comprising a range of accommodation ranging from camping sites to hotels and lodges. We believe that the proposed Cable Car will further enhance visitor experience, achieve geographical spread in terms of tourism product development and unlock opportunities not only for investors but also for the surrounding communities in terms of job creation, employment opportunities and ignite local entrepreneurial spirit.

The cable way is technically feasible. Whilst a cableway in the environment envisaged is an expensive development there is sufficient precedent in South Africa and around the world to suggest the venture would be financially feasible. The market demand assessment suggests that the cableway will attract significantly increased numbers of tourists to the area, building on the already significant tourism demand in the study area. There is no fatal flaw identified in the initial environmental assessment to suggest it should not proceed to a business planning and implementation phase with a full environmental impact assessment to be undertaken prior to development commencing.

"This initiative is a catalytic project that could change the economic development and tourism landscape of the Province. A tourism game changer indeed" says Mr. Michael Mabuyakhulu MEC for Economic Development and Tourism: KwaZulu-Natal.


Objections to the proposal


1. It is not desired by the amaZizi leadership and many community members

The Busingatha Valley is home to many of the amaZizi people who inhabit the region. The amaZizi leadership and many community members do not want the cableway, nor have they been properly consulted. Together with the neighbouring amaNgwane leadership, and following years of consultation, there was consensus that 45 000 hectares of land would be committed to a community nature reserve and wilderness area. A proclamation process for this nature reserve had just commenced when the MEC of a provincial department launched the cableway proposal. The amaNgwane mountain people live between Busingatha and Cathedral Peak.


The cableway and its associated large-scale tourism facilities would disrupt the cultural and societal fabric. It would intrude on land in the heart of the anticipated community wilderness area which is imbued with profound ancestral and cultural connections. The amaZizi leadership, elders and many community conservation-related groups state unequivocally that they do not want the cableway.


2. It threatens the current World Heritage status of the surrounding areas

This cableway would destroy the opportunity to create an unbroken protected area covering close to 300km of the Drakensberg range from Royal Natal National Park in the North, right through to Sehlabathebe National Park (Lesotho) in the South.


The current Maloti-Drakenserg Park was awarded World Heritage status on the basis of its scenic natural beauty and pristine wilderness areas, as well as its abundance of priceless rock art, but it is currently in two sections, one on each side of the two communal areas. UNESCO recommended that a cooperative agreement be established between the amaNgwane, the amaZizi, and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (the conservation authorities managing the South African part of the current Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site).

Should this agreement and protection not be established, it may well put the integrity of the current World Heritage Site at risk, leading to the de-proclamation of this status, or at least the exclusion of Royal Natal National Park from the site.


3. The economic viability is highly questionable

The cableway poses considerable investment risk. The number visitors who would use the cableway would be too low to sustain the initial capital outlay and the ongoing operational costs. Various other proposed cableways for Drakensberg over the years have faced the same challenges and were thus not pursued.


Current studies have only identified the possibility of creating between 30 and 79 jobs for the local people resulting from the cableway, with the possibility of a some more from the associated tourism. In contrast, current community-managed projects have created hundreds of jobs already through initiatives such erosion control, alien plant eradication, fire management, environmental monitoring, and guiding services to the rock art sites and wilderness areas.


4. It will harm the environment

The cumulative, irreversible impacts on the mountain and its wilderness cannot be ignored. A wide range of interested and affected parties, who support community opposition, also argue that the 7km cableway would introduce a major visual intrusion into a unique and majestic mountain landscape. It would be noticeable from far away, and more importantly, from within existing wilderness areas. It poses a high risk of disrupting the Busingatha natural ecosystem, which currently is ranked very highly for its pristine nature. It will also place additional pressure on endangered species like the Bearded Vulture and Cape Griffons. The Drakensberg is also the water-tower of a country which has very limited water supply. The cableway cannot fail to have serious and irreversible impacts on many of the major rivers which rise on the summit, close to where the upper station is envisaged, almost on the boundary of the World Heritage Site.


A better alternative

They are awaiting the proclamation of a nature reserve which they themselves delineated and for which they developed draft Management Plans over the course of 2010 - hence the consensus of the AmaNgwane and AmaZizi Amakosi on the proclamation of 45,000ha conserved land. The amaZizi and the amaNgwane have also identified at least two existing sites which could be upgraded into tourism resorts of international standing. The existing sites are outside the demarcated wilderness area, close to existing roads and are both located in areas which are deemed far more suitable and less disruptive. A managed investment into these sites would be far more productive at a considerably lower cost than building the cableway.

Both the sites are so situated that they would provide considerable impetus to local SME development in both the AmaZizi and AmaNgwane rural areas. This, together with labour-intensive environmental rehabilitation activities in which communities have been engaged over a number of years, would bring meaningful, far more equitable and long-lasting beneficiation, and hundreds of job to local people, rather than the handful of the 50+ plus jobs envisaged for local AmaZizi people.

The words of the AmaZizi

Our name for our mountains, and the culture of our communities who live in the valleys, is Amagug'esizwe (Treasure of the Nation). The mountains of the AmaZizi and the AmaNgwane lie between the two sections of the Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site. One day we hope that our mountains can also be a world heritage site - A Living Cultural World Heritage Site. We have done a lot of work to help identify a Community Nature Reserve with a wilderness area. Our name for wilderness is ihlane. Now a cableway is being proposed for the AmaZizi Busingatha Valley. This is in the middle of the AmaZizi wilderness. Our traditional AmaZizi leadership and its people are much disturbed.

“My name is Sigungu Miya, brother of the late Nkosi E.M. Miya of the AmaZizi. I speak on behalf of the family of the recently deceased Nkosi Miya, as the traditional leadership of our people. We have not been able to speak until now because we and our community have been in mourning for our Inkosi, his children and his brother.

FIRSTLY : The MEC Mabuyakhulu, DEDT has shown a complete lack of respect to the royal family of the AmaZizi, even after the loss of Nkosi Miya. They never formally introduced the proposed Busingatha cableway to the late Nkosi Miya and they have never come to consult at the Amazizi Tribal Office.

SECONDLY : Without any consultation with us, the office of Mabayukhlu put up their big tents at Busingatha on 23 November 2013, the day before the burial of the late Inkosi's brother, who died soon after our Inkosi, and who was to be buried on 24 November. On 23 November while we, as the family, were preparing for the funeral of our Nkosi's brother and were bringing his body from the mortuary, there were loud speakers in a mourning tribe.

I wish to make it known that, contrary to the claims of some people, Inkosi Miya never agreed to have the cableway in our area. He wanted his communities to benefit from every community project and continue managing their own areas, without being manipulated or disturbed by outsiders who might come to our area to make money for themselves, or take jobs from our people or disturb our culture. He always spoke strongly about the conservation of all living and cultural heritage belonging to the area. That is why he authorised the Amazizi Wilderness Group, to work with other community environmental working teams to promote a community wilderness area and work on wilderness management activities for the existing environment. We also wanted our local wilderness, environmental and cultural groups to make school children aware of the importance of nature and our culture.

We, as the traditional leaders and authority of our people, kept in our office all the information and arrangements for the proclamation of a community nature reserve and wilderness area that we support. We do not want this cableway in our area.”

The Constitutions of our community wilderness groups recognise that our mountain ihlane is our cultural and natural heritage. Ihlane needs to be conserved because it has changed very little from the landscape that our ancestors knew. When we look at our mountains we see what our ancestors saw. Ihlane also gives lots of very clean water. This is important for South Africa because our country does not have a lot of water. In our mountains are rock art sites of the San people and important places of biodiversity. A specialist who did an assessment of ihlane in Busingatha told us that it scored 18 out of 20 for biodiversity. Ihlane also has many things that our culture needs. This is why it is so important to look after it and conserve it.

Our mountains are our heritage and also the heritage of people in South Africa, and, we think, the heritage of all people in the world. Our wilderness is very beautiful and we know that our mountains have a spiritual importance for many visitors from South Africa and overseas . Our prophets have told us that the mountains are places of great power. We Know that we have a responsibility to care for our wilderness and that we are accountable this care.

We need your support because there are politicians and other powerful people who have told us they are want to put a cableway in the Busingatha Valley, but it will only give about 30 to 50 jobs. Over the past 8 years our wilderness groups have employed hundreds of community people to work on jobs like donga rehabilitation in our wilderness buffer and also alien weed eradication. We do environmental monitoring as well and recruit people for fire management in our wilderness. Community guides take people into ihlane and also tell them about the culture of our people. Our wilderness, rock art and cultural groups also work in many local schools and explain to learners why our culture and ihlane is the treasure of our nation.

The AmaZizi and Mnweni Wilderness groups do not support the cableway. We have spent a long time identifying a community wilderness area. We hope your support will be of much help to us. We were expecting that preparation will soon start for a proclamation for a community nature reserve that will include our wilderness area. Now we have been told about the idea of the cableway.

We need help to start our community nature reserve and wilderness area. Our people need more training in environmental and financial management. We have identified two possible sites where it could be possible for big tourism developments like hotels to take place. These sites are outside our wilderness boundary. They will not destroy our wilderness and will not be seen from inside our nature reserve. We hope that one day we can also be a world heritage site - a Natural and Living Cultural World Heritage Site. We need the same sort of subsidies that are given to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who are managing the Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site. But we do not need the cableway. This western business will change our culture and it will change our mountains. We do not want this to happen.

If you love mountains and wilderness and want to honour our culture please help us.”