The new ANC president announced that one of the most important contributory factors to encourage a stable financial future in South Africa is encouraging the growth of tourism. There has been an immense jubilation amongst those who rely on the hospitality industry for an income. In Underberg and Lesotho tourism was born and raised as a result of The Sani Pass. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sani_Pass
‘The Sani Pass is the mother of all South African mountain passes. Statistically and in every sense, it out distances, out climbs, and out performs all it’s competitors with consummate ease to have become the most iconic gravel pass in SA. “ Read more on Mountain Passes in South Africa: https://www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za/find-a-pass/kwazulu-natal/item/410-sani-pass.html
There is no doubt that a tour up and hopefully down again, elicits a few soft whistles of adrenaline and sharp intakes of breath at the scope, gradient and sheer size of the mountains. This Pass is the ‘corpus callosum’ between the little town of Underberg and The Highest Pub in Lesotho.
On the trip up there is a very short slice of road between the Old Trading Store and before the South African border post which is cluttered with orange coloured netting, discarded construction tools and an occasional green ‘porta-loo’. This is certainly no longer than a couple of kilometres distance and thereafter the real serious climb begins. Quickly the view opens onto the virgin road stretching up the Pass which is the real reason why so many international tourists tuck an extra 200 km’s and more into their South African Tour.
Way back in 2012 the first mutterings of tarring this pass were heard whilst most people shook their heads in disbelief. There are over 200 endemic species of plants, numerous wildlife and a multitude of history of the San People captured through rock-art in caves and crevices. The thought of front-end loaders and teams of workers in hard-hats in this pristine environment was concerning.
As a well-recognized tourist destination 30% of the local population are employed in this industry. Guest houses and farm cottages pepper the town and entice tourists to travel from Durban to reach the Pass which is a World Heritage Site. Luxury hotels have recently been elegantly blended into the country side at considerable investment despite the announcement in 2014 that the tarring of the pass had been passed by government.
In July 2015 Engineering News reported:
CREAMER MEDIA CORRESPONDENT
“Investment of R836.6-million is needed to connect the “missing” 19 km stretch of road between the Sani Pass Hotel at the South African border and the Lesotho border to open up a vital Durban–Pietermaritzburg–Lesotho trade corridor.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport senior manager for policy and planning, Pat Dorkin, told delegates at the KwaZulu-Natal Funding Fair, in Durban, that this was the missing link in a vital road that was all but complete on either side.”
The rationale behind the decision was to open an internationally important trade link between Lesotho and Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Well that was almost three years ago and not a lot has happened on the steep gradients of the ‘missing link’. It is also debatable that vital roads on the Underberg side had been completed then or now for that matter.
Currently guides require absolute concentration in coaxing their 4×4’s through the traction on gravel and rock. It therefore poses the question of how traders in any mode of loaded transport seriously believe that they will safely be able to slide up or down 6 black-topped switch backs coated with glassy ice in the winter.
We need to rely on the expertise of engineers however would articulated trucks be able to negotiate Ice Corner? The Eastern Highlands of Lesotho is very remote with the entire population being in the region of 2.3 million. Is a trade route into this country really be of such significance to our economy?
There are many opposing arguments as to why there is no necessity to spoil a natural environment, cut a scar into the curve of a world renowned heritage site, damage the flora, disturb the multitude of birds, herds of Eland an many other creatures who thrive on these slopes.
From a positive viewpoint it could encourage a lot more domestic tourism and interest in the vast rural Highlands of Lesotho. Medical Supplies may be easily transported into Mohotlong and new unknown tourist destinations may be discovered. As poverty and unemployment is a bitter reality for most of these Basotho people, the opening of this pass may provide opportunities for economic growth. The question has been posed however that would the numerous people working in Underberg’s hospitality sector not be compromised instead?
Perhaps it is just our resistance to change that rejects man interfering with nature?
It may be questioned that this money could be better spent using these construction teams to repair damage to existing roads in South Africa instead.
However this is one of the most iconic passes in South Africa and it is doubtful that tarring would deter those coming to view the roof top of Africa but the slow progress coupled with the enormous cost makes it unlikely to reach fruition in the foreseeable future.
Perhaps we will not see a hardtop ‘Missing Link’ in our lifetime?