20 July 2006
The road through Sani Pass, one of southern Africa’s most spectacular mountain passes, is to be upgraded, opening up the corridor from Thaba Tseka in Lesotho to Pietermaritzburg in South Africa and providing easier access to the Maloti-Drakensberg transfrontier area.
South Africa’s and Lesotho’s transport ministers, Jeff Radebe and Neo Masithela, launched the R160-million upgrade project at the SA-Lesotho border near Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday.
The 33-kilometre gravel road traverses the sheer cliffs of the Drakensberg escarpment in a series of tight zig-zag curves – given names such as “Ice Corner”, “Big Wind Corner” and “Suicide Bend” – climbing more than a kilometre from the Sani Pass Hotel (altitude 1 566m) past the South African border post (1 900m) to the Sani Pass Summit at 2 873m.
Originally used to bring goods on pack animals from South Africa to Mokhotlong in the “Mountain Kingdom”, the pass was only opened to vehicle traffic in 1955 and, despite improvements since then, remains extremely steep and rough.
Though offroad vehicle enthusiasts may mourn the old Sani’s passing, the road is set to be upgraded into a smooth, tarred surface accessible to normal cars and public transport vehicles.
The project is expected to boost development on both sides of the border, opening up the corridor linking Thaba Tseka and Mokhotlong in Lesotho and Himvelle, Underberg and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa.
The upgraded road will extend as far as Pietermaritzburg, a centre capable of providing a variety of economic services to Lesotho.
Speaking at the launch, Radebe said the project would also provide easier tourist access to the Maloti-Drakensberg transfrontier area that includes the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage site.
He said the project would contribute to black economic empowerment by linking an established and emerging consultant via a joint venture agreement.
It will also create employment, both during and after construction, through the Zibambele Road Maintenance and Vukuzakhe Contractor Development programmes, both part of the goverment’s Expanded Public Works Programme.
The former targets poorer households, especially women-headed households, contracting them for 12 months to perform tasks such as clearing side drains and maintaining road surfaces. The latter involves labour-intensive road upgrade construction.
In July 2005, South Africa and Lesotho signed agreements on transport, infrastructure development and co-operation in search and rescue operations.
SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews