Artice by Brian Kemp – Halls Country House in the Drakensberg.
The ‘great and the good’ have decided that tourism is to be one of the key drivers of the South African economy. More tourists will make us all richer. So obviously we’ve got to improve access to our Drakensberg wilderness. Right? Well here’s one grumpy old man who’s not too delighted.
Where and what is the Sani Pass? It’s in the southern Drakensberg. It’s one of the highest passes in southern Africa and it’s the only road offering vehicular access from KwaZulu Natal to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Admittedly, it’s not much of a road. In fact without a 4-wheel drive, you’re not allowed to enter the pass. And now it’s to be tarred by 2009. Starting next month.
Sani Pass was originally a mule route over the mountains until, in 1955, David Alexander and friends began constructing a road for their Land Rovers, so they could create a trade route between KwaZulu Natal and Lesotho. So the Mokhotlong Mountain Transport Company was created, and the Pass which it made famous.
A simple inn was built at the top to give shelter to travellers. You get warm beds, good food and “the highest pub in southern Africa”. Just as well. You can be snowed in for days on end.
Why tar it? The idea is greatly favoured by the Lesotho 4×4 taximen and other traders. It’s also thought that improving access will bring more tourists, more hotels, more jobs and all the rest of it. Maybe.
But. The Sani Pass is like the rest of the Drakensberg - a pristine mountain wilderness. And it’s pristine precisely because it’s inaccessible. And remote. And the only people you’re going to meet are like-minded spirits, who’ve taken the trouble to get there. Good grief, it’s only in the last few years that the area has been properly mapped. Some of the peaks haven’t even been named, far less climbed. People go there because they’re trying to escape the traffic, the hubbub, mall-brats and their cell phones. They want more than a break. They want redemption. In a wilderness. Not tarred roads.
Am I just a grumpy old man?