** No. 2. Update: Ampitheatre Closure on Hold – Drakensberg Safety – recent attack

8 May

Looks like they are trying to avoid a closure.

No doubt Tourism companies and a few others kicking up a fuss and telling the powers that be to provide a solution.

Via iol.co.za
The recent incident has led us to review the safety situation in consultation with a number of affected stakeholders. A number of proposals aimed at avoiding the closure are being discussed.

“No decision has been taken by Ezemvelo to close the Amphitheatre,” Mntambo said.

Full report –> http://mini.iol.co.za/ios/news/drakensberg-hikers-brutally-attacked-2018748

Drakensberg CNN
Above image: Screen grab from the CNN.com 60 Second Vacation

****ALERT****

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.

Basutu drug smugglers, drug mules

Basutu dagga smugglers. If it weren’t for the white bags on the donkey, these folk would be very hard to spot!

 

A number of suggestions for safer camping on the Amphitheatre are proposed:

1.    We recommend that you do not camp anywhere on the main Amphitheatre “bowl” or major paths, but that you choose a valley well away from the main trails and set up camp uphill, so that you have the advantage of high ground.
2.    Do not set up tents when you are being watched. Generally the culprits will hang around on the ridges above hiking parties in the late afternoons. If you are being watched, keep moving and don’t set up camp anywhere near them.
3.    Don’t set up camp near huts or areas of obvious habitation.
4.    Be friendly and polite to those you meet, but firm.  Don’t display cameras and other valuables openly if you can help it.
5.    A party size of three or more is recommended.
6.    A watch system at night can be exhausting but might be a good option for known trouble spots.
7.    Going with a guide or experienced porters helps tremendously as they can often spot trouble and some speak the local language.
8.    Keep all your belongings in the tent with you, and tie your boots to your pack or sleeping bag to avoid them being taken without your knowledge.
9.    Consider putting survival items such as a space blanket, cell phones and boots into a smaller daypack or jacket that can be quickly retrieved if need be.

Many people have very happy memories of their hikes and the Wilderness experience in the Drakensberg is unmatched. Unfortunately at this stage the Amphitheatre is an area where greater vigilance is needed, but this shouldn’t stop you exploring the breath taking Wilderness of the Berg.  It offers an unrivaled experience for solitude, scenic splendour and adventure and most interactions with Basutho people in the Berg are friendly and safe throughout the Drakensberg.

Stephen Richert
Conservation Manager
Royal Natal Maloti Drakensberg World Heritage Site

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33 Responses to ** No. 2. Update: Ampitheatre Closure on Hold – Drakensberg Safety – recent attack

  1. Stijn Apr 27, 2016 at 7:42 am #

    Details of the attack from one of the victims: http://www.vertical-endeavour.com/forum/2-drakensberg-security/55995-berg-alert-2016.html?start=20#68011

    Horrible. Be careful up there guys.

  2. Patrick Apr 27, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    Unbelievable. This just goes on and on. Only one solution it seems. Lead.

  3. Justin Lawson Apr 27, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    Insane!!

    The pepper spray sounds like it worked to some degree in buying time to escape, however at some cost to user!

    The level of violence that the attackers (presumably Basuthos) used is of concern. Sounds like a flat out attack and take vs “I have a weapon and I request that you hand over your money/goods”.

    Does anyone know what is their social situation (that leads them to attack on such an aggressive level)?

    Wishing the guys involved a speedy recovery.

    • Ghaznavid Apr 27, 2016 at 11:11 am #

      I suspect it might be to do with the fact that they tried to fight back. It is one of those catch-22’s – if you meekly run away, they will probably attack more often due to how easy it is.

      There have been issues like this in the past – but a rock throwing attack hasn’t happened since something like 2006.

      Last year, a team of 2 got mugged on Masubasuba Pass (just south of Sani) in broad daylight. They took their packs and did a full body search for money, left them tied up. They didn’t fight back and there were no major physical injuries.

      Horrible indeed, but I think there is little one can do to prevent this from happening.

  4. Pierre Apr 27, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

    There was a certain individual reportedly in the eastern cape/southern natal where stock theft was prevalent. An individual was found headless with it placed on a pole. The next group looking to create shrinkage were terrified back over the mountains. Stick theft reportedly stopped. It’s not correct to do this but, it achieved what deliberation and other punitive measures didn’t. So if I’m threatened then maybe there will be some chassis discarded around the camp afterwards. Guys please place a guard out with extra bright lights, flares and emergency radio. Then finally there are simple security devices, fishing gut, tins and stones. But, electric ones work better, with sirens and flashing strobes.

  5. Marisca Apr 28, 2016 at 3:20 am #

    The fact that these guys are allowed to graze their animals on a national park seems to be a big problem. Not only are they contaminating the water they are now threatening hikers!! They need to be kept off the national park!

    • Ghaznavid Apr 28, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

      This is their ancestral land where they have lived for hundreds of years. This didn’t happen on the SA side of the border, so it wasn’t in a national park. The spot is roughly 6km from the SA/Lesotho border.

      I have personally met with plenty of Basothos up there, and very few have been unpleasant. Most are exceptionally friendly. Don’t pain an entire group as bad because of a few rotten apples.

      • Patrick Apr 29, 2016 at 10:13 pm #

        What a load of crap. Where’s my bloody ancestral land? There’s always some dimwit who has to swim against the tide of reason. There’s no justification for these barbaric acts irrespective of who’s land it is and how long they’ve been there, and pointing out how pleasant the majority are does nothing to ease the pain of the victims. Hikers don’t go around raiding villages, raping the women, beating up the men and stealing the livestock. Get a grip man.

        • Peter Xidavini May 13, 2016 at 6:37 am #

          The discussion on this sad incident is descending into subtle racism. You are going to get armed to kill or beat up any mosotho you find in the mountain. I condemn the criminality by any race but we can’t generalize or brush the entire race with the same paint. Basotho have a right to graze in their ancestral land and we have a privilege and a right to enjoy our hobbies in peace. We can’t also expect conservation authorities to utilize unsafe helicopters for rescue without passing the costs to the hikers. Not all tax payers are hikers nor all hikers are taking unmitigated risk that results in injuries requiring rescue. Those expressing racist comments should be told that they don’t represent all hikers and certainly shouldn’t think that we share their views. Let’s hike in numbers to be safe, let’s all share the space and be civil, no need for guns. The moment you carry guns, criminals will carry guns too and unarmed hikers will bear the brunt of armed criminals. Let’s work with authorities to secure our parks.

  6. SA Donkin Apr 29, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

    I have spoken to my friend who was seriously injured during the latest attack and the first sign of trouble was rocks being thrown through the tent while they were sleeping. It was not just a case of theft which can happen while hiking anywhere in the world. The perpetrators clearly had bodily harm as their main intention and theft as a secondary motivation. None of the 3 victims ever had a chance to peacefully surrender their belongings as the violent onslaught left them with no choice but to defend themselves and eventually flee for their lives. It is obvious that murder on the agenda. Just another case of a place of natural beauty being hijacked and abused by criminals while the authorities shrug their shoulders. Apparently the SAPS says an attempted murder docket can not be opened as only rocks and knobkerries were used and these are traditional weapons. Parts of my friends bone from his skull were driven into his brain. My forefathers traditional weapon is a 303 Lee Enfield and that is the only way to combat these crimes

    • brian Jun 2, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

      Yip, I agree!
      Rhodes in the south stopped having stock thefts and other issues coincidencely at the same time that some strange unexplained suicides were reported in the mountains. Theses scumballs are both cowards and opportunistic thieves when the moment appears.

  7. Justin May 3, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

    ****ALERT****

    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.”

    • Ruan Aug 3, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

      Is tge chain ladder route still closef ??

      • Justin Lawson Aug 4, 2017 at 9:03 am #

        No, it is open again. No recent reports of crime in the area to the best of my knowledge. Going with a guide is obviously recommended (from a mountaineering point of view).
        Enjoy

  8. mokganjetsi May 5, 2016 at 6:47 am #

    You can lease an RH 44 heli for R10k per hour. How come Ezemvelo KZN claim to pay R80k? Trying to justify their fees? Anyways, hikers need to take care of their own safety – you can’t patrol that area 24/7.

    • Anthony Howes May 7, 2016 at 6:09 pm #

      I know one of the pilots that fly the sadf helicopters and he confirms it costs close to R80000 an hour at altitude. I cannot fly just any helicopter in the berg due to the high winds and thin air at that altitude.

    • Glenn May 7, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

      There is permanent civilian Jet Ranger operating out of Dragon Peaks in the Central berg that does the occasional rescue (for incidents that don’t require stretchers) when the Air Force can’t get through, for around the R10K mark. While 44’s can’t hover at the altitudes most accidents happen at, the Jet Ranger certainly can. Granted an equipped medi vac terbine chooper would be needed from PMB or Durbs for more severe injuries but still at a fraction of the cost.The fact that the Parks Board use the Air Force and pay exorbitant hourly rates for Oryx helicopters is just a government thing – efficiency and cost cutting are not in their practical approach.

  9. Mike May 5, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Great idea; send out patrols to catch out and fine ‘perps’ trespassing on our birthright land. Don’t send out patrols to deal with actual violent criminals in the area. Always easier to punish actual tax paying, honest tourists in the area.
    Hike with side arms. Easiest way to smooth this out.

  10. Oubaas May 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    Good point Mike. If there are now patrols to issue fines to hikers wanting to enjoy the mountains then why not use those same patrollers to protect the hikers and arrest the real criminals.

  11. Mapaseka May 5, 2016 at 9:59 pm #

    Iam very disappointed by this. And feeling sorry for those people who were attacked. I as a tour guide in lesotho , i think this is the time for our governments both south Africa and Lesotho through the police to take actions on this people. I am really shocked

  12. Nic May 6, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    I’m also puzzled by the cost for rescue thing. A SAAF Oryx (one of the few helicopters in the area that can operate at the altitude of the top of the ‘Berg) is R80k per hour yes but the costs are covered by the state and not the conservation body as far as I know. Certainly here in the Cape the costs are not passed on to SANParks or CapeNature.

  13. Seyan May 7, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    We were there that night, we heard them talking outside our tent but luckily we were 4 people in the group and they never tried anything. Very sad to hear that, so disappointed.

  14. Anthony Howes May 7, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

    Why don’t we show a show of force. Get as many hikers as we can to hike up there?

  15. Peter May 7, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

    Then get snipers in there with hunting rifles.

  16. Justin May 8, 2016 at 9:04 am #

    Looks like they are trying to avoid a closure…

    The recent incident has led us to review the safety situation in consultation with a number of affected stakeholders. A number of proposals aimed at avoiding the closure are being discussed.

    “No decision has been taken by Ezemvelo to close the Amphitheatre,” Mntambo said.

    Full report –> http://mini.iol.co.za/ios/news/drakensberg-hikers-brutally-attacked-2018748

  17. John Mustart May 8, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    If they can patrol the area and fine people for tresspassing why can’t they patrol the area to stop crime.

  18. Oubaas May 8, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

    Who are the stakeholders?

  19. Oubaas May 8, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

    Anthony Howes I fully agree with you. Let’s get as many people together and go and sjambok and beat the living shit out of the bastards and chase them back into Lesotho where they belong!!!

    • Michael May 8, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

      Best idea so far!

    • Mike May 10, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      Banter aside; hikers need to start taking safety seriously. Go out in groups no smaller than 4 people. Make sure that there is at least one fire arm per group. If there is any threat, there should be no hesitation. Start taking back the hills. Stop rolling over people. Shoot these scum.

  20. Alison May 9, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

    What about drones? Surely these would be cheaper than helicopters and more manouverable and easier to pilot?

  21. Justin Lawson May 15, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    Being overseas recently I caught a ‘CNN 60 second Vacation’ which features the Drakensberg. I do wonder if they they know about the recent events!?

    http://edition.cnn.com/videos/travel/2016/04/06/60-second-vacation-drakensberg-spc.cnn

    CNN Traveler Drakensberg

  22. Dirgni Jul 19, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    We (2) were chased by 6 basothos and a pack of dogs on 16 July on the SA slopes of The Buttress, Lotheni area, well within South Africa. We were lucky, as we could drop over a rock face into a narrow steep sided ravine and disappear. Chasing and attacking other people is caveman stuff that most of the global village has outgrown. But, the global village values may never reach this part of the Drakensberg, so take care when hiking out there.

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