Challenges facing the Drakensberg cableway project
A 2016 compiliation of concerned inputs coordinated by the Mountain Club of South Africa (KZN section)

The water production function of the Drakensberg cannot afford to be compromised.
Robin Gardner (2016)

The Maloti-Drakensberg range of mountains constitutes the principal water production area of South Africa. This strategic watershed depends upon the integrity and health of its montane grassland ecosystem to function efficiently. The Thukela River is the largest of the three main river systems draining the province of KwaZulu-Natal, with approximately 60% of its water originating from the Drakensberg escarpment. The upper station of the proposed Drakensberg cableway is planned to be positioned at the headwaters of the eBusingatha River, a tributary of the Thukela. The two cableway sub-stations, and the base-station, are planned to be positioned along the flanks of the same river. The eBusingatha River has been delivering pristine mountain water to downstream communities for generations. The establishment of the 7km cableway will indeed pose high risk to the entire Busingatha natural ecosystem, including the provision of high quality drinking water to those who live in the area. Refuse and sewage disposal systems will undoubtedly be part of the design, but due to the ever present possibility of human and mechanical error, from beginning of construction work and into the future, there will be the ever present associated high risk of pollution and degradation of the catchment area. The soil erosion that will undoubtedly arise from the significantly increased level of foot traffic on the summit in the vicinity of the upper station poses a threat to the future well-being of the Maloti-Drakensberg catchment area. The upper Senqu River catchment is destined to be a major provider of high quality water to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). Degeneration of the grassland ecosystem in the upper Senqu catchment area through increased human activity could have a major impact on the planned water supply of the river to the LHWP.

  Click online to expand +

Potential Risk to Conservation From the Construction of the Proposed Drakensberg Cable Car.
Jan Phelan (2016)

The most significant impacts for conservation from the proposed cable car are likely to be with regard to the following:

There may well be others once the full extent of the proposed development proposal is known and the envisaged infrastructure at the base and upper cable station are set out. Further details are included below.

  Click online to expand +

World heritage status may be under threat if guidelines are not followed.
Murray Sanders (2016)

The World Heritage Committee notes the State Party of South Africa’s agreement to carry-out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposed cableway, and requests that it should include a detailed Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), in line with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment and ICOMOS’ Guidelines on HIAs for Cultural World Heritage properties, and also requests the State Party of South Africa to submit a copy of the completed assessment to the World Heritage Centre, for review by the Advisory Bodies.
This document and further details are available on the web via the link below:

Without a verdict of 'feasible', and without a favourable EIA, further promotion of the cableway project at public expense is unjustified.
Michael Relihan (2016)

A 'Feasibility Study for the Development of a Drakensberg Cable Car', and a 'Final Draft Business Plan for the Development of a Drakensberg Cable Car' were released for this project in 2013 by Graham Muller Associates. The 2013 feasibility study report highlights major challenges relating to weather, environmental impacts and community involvement issues, and these have received considerable media attention. The 2013 business plan was reviewed by Jonathan Newman towards the end of the same year and is available online The business plan review highlighted serious concerns with the economic feasibility of the cableway project and these concerns have been echoed in various other media reports available online. Nevertheless, EDTEA have released no official response to the review that addresses the concerns raised.

The KZN Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs department (EDTEA) and affiliates have promoted the Drakensberg cableway project actively as a fait complete by various means for a few years at public expensive. Nevertheless no EIA report is available to date and the initiation process of this is questioned! A second feasibility study was tendered for in May 2016, as many unaddressed public objections on practical and economic feasibility issues were raised to the 2013 feasibility study. The recently advertized new tender for a full feasibility study are tacit admission by EDTEA that major questions about the project need answers before the project can be considered 'feasible'. Moreover, only once an EIA has been completed can any official decision be made about whether the project may proceed. It is high time that a brake be put on promoting a project that lacks the support of both a positive feasibility verdict, and a positive EIA.

  Click online to expand +

Report on expected negative impacts of the proposed Drakensberg Cableway on key attributes of the Drakensberg.
Bill Bainbridge and Ilan Lax (Wilderness Action Group) (2016)

The proposed cableway is not in keeping with the legislation and policies that protect key attributes of the mountains (unspoiled scenic beauty, wilderness resources and cultural character). It will unfortunately have severe negative impacts. The KZN Drakensberg comprises two components: the Maloti Drakensberg World Heritage Site and the traditional lands of impoverished rural communities, in urgent need of sustainable development to relieve their indigent state.

A suite of laws and policies have been put in place in terms of the requirements of UNESCO for World Heritage Sites and for the protection of such unique environments under the Constitution of South Africa. In terms of these laws various planning instruments have been adopted, viz., the Integrated Management Plan, the Development Concept Plan and the Wilderness Management Plan. Cableways are specifically noted as non-conforming developments for the area, even in the buffer zone. There is no doubt that a mass tourism instrument such as a cableway will irreversibly and inevitably destroy the present unspoiled natural beauty and wilderness character of many parts of the mountains, by imposing on it substantial artificial physical structures that are an indispensable element of any cableway, compounded by an artificial lighting system, often also compounded further by noisy activities including helicopter flights, not to mention the necessary likelihood of a road or roads being required during construction and subsequently for maintenance and access purposes. Such structures will also pose a threat to various rare biodiversity. It is difficult to determine without reference to detailed specifics whether a compromise can be reached between the need to protect the Drakensberg and the apparently opposing need to provide sustainable development to provide employment and improve the livelihoods of these rural communities.

More information must be provided, with clear details on how the cableway will benefit the rural communities; what alternative development options have been considered; and most importantly, how the decision to go ahead with the project to construct a cableway was arrived at and what considerations were weighed up which justify the decision. This information must be provided in a more transparent manner with sufficient detail to enable interested and affected parties to be better informed and thus be properly consulted.

  Click online to expand +