Drakensberg Safety – Ampitheatre Closed


We have unfortunately have had to make the decision to close the Amphitheatre region to all persons, until the security situation stabilises. From the 20th of May 2016, the Amphitheatre region will be closed to all persons. This means that no persons will be allowed into that area, and will be considered trespassing (with possible fines) if found there. Patrols will be done to enforce this decision. The area is described as follows: From the cairn above the chain ladders, along the escarpment to Mount Amery, and back up towards Mont Aux Sources, and down again to the cairn. This is the area managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

We would like to remind everyone that all fees charged to those who pay at the Witsieshoek entrance gate and sentinel car park, are paid to Witsieshoek resort, who manage the land on behalf of the local community. Their land includes the Chain Ladders. The KZN Wildlife area (ie Royal Natal) only begins above the chain ladders at the large cairn, and ends near Mount Amery and Mont Aux Sources. Many people are under the impression that they are paying fees to KZN Wildlife when they enter Witsieshoek for services such as mountain rescue, path maintenance etc. – this is not correct.

A few points:

1. We are forced into this decision by the current security situation there. This is an unfortunate decision which we did not want to do, but your safety is foremost in our minds.
2. We fully understand the implications of this decision on those wishing to do the GT, guiding businesses etc. There will be a stakeholder meeting scheduled in June where stakeholders will be invited to discuss the way forward.
3. There is little to no buy-in from the South African and Lesotho Police services to take action about crime that occurs there. There is seldom a response to the area, no arrests, and no patrols. This is despite the fact that it forms the international border, and that life-threatening cross-border crime is occurring.
4. Due to limited resources, KZN Wildlife patrol the area (mainly over peak periods) from time to time but we cannot afford a permanent presence there. In addition to this, due to a serious budget cut to our state subsidy, patrols in that area will likely be further reduced, especially over peak periods.
5. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife pay for rescues carried out in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, and at over R80 000 per hour for aircraft, a typical rescue can cost over R180000. Because hikers are not paying their entrance fees to KZN Wildlife in that area (as all funds go to Witsieshoek), in theory, no one hiking in the Amphitheatre area (or doing the GT for that matter!!) is covered for mountain rescue (unless hikers pay KZN Wildlife entrance fees first). This is because payment of entrance fees covers you for rescue costs as well. Although we still do carry out this function, the risk of these costs being passed on to rescued hikers is increasing.
6. We are in discussion with various services to draw attention and hopefully long term, sustainable action to the problem. Again, we reiterate that your safety and enjoyment is our primary concern. Hiking in the Berg should be the wonderful, safe adventure that it usually is. We all know the personal growth and spiritual renewal that this amazing place offers. No one can replace the experience that wilderness offers, and no one should have the right to take it away from you. Remember too that the right to a safe and healthy environment is your basic right, enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa.

A number of suggestions for the way forward are being considered, and we welcome your suggestions as well. These suggestions relate to the Amphitheatre area only for the time being but may well be good ideas for hiking in the rest of the Berg too:
A guiding system is set up that requires all those camping in that area to make use of a local guide, paid by the hikers, to provide security to them overnight. Perhaps these need to be Basutho people!
The user-pays principal needs to apply here. Nothing can be done without resources.
Daily patrols to the chain ladders need to be undertaken to curb the crime there.
The SAPS and SANDF need to conduct regular patrols along the international boundary and use deal with illegal immigrants.

We look forward to engaging with stakeholders on this matter.

Jimmy Carter once said: “Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.”

Source: MCSA KZN

On the 24th of April 2016 at around 01h00, a group of three South African hikers who were camping on a path junction in the valley leading up to Fangs Pass, were attacked by three Basutho males with dogs.

One of the party sustained serious injuries and police dockets are being opened. Authorities are investigating the matter. The current modus operandi of the individuals at the Amphitheatre area is as follows:

• Aggressive begging for food or money at the Chain ladders. Some hikers have had stones thrown at them when descending after refusing to give food or money.
• Shepherds watching hiking parties late afternoon when they set up camp to see what can be stolen. Attacks then generally occur around 23h00 to 03h00.
• Some tents are cut open and items stolen.

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