Dear Editor

Private shots

I refer to the letter on hunting by Pat Werdmuller von Elgg in nose191.

The Cecil incident happened in Zimbabwe and while it could perhaps happen here it is not a stick with which to beat “corrupt governance in South Africa”. The fact that South African law allows game to be owned privately is a huge success for conservation.

Under private ownership game numbers have increased, whereas in the rest of Africa numbers have uniformly declined. Privately-owned rhinos in South Africa represent 40% of the world total, more than in the rest of Africa. Part of the reason for the growth in wild animal numbers is that hunters are prepared to pay much more than the going tourist value for game, allowing for a profit which owners generally plough back into the business of raising more game.

I have no connection with shooting, but if a hunter, even a dentist from Minnesota, wants to come and shoot trophies, I say “Welcome, you are bringing money into the system, to the benefit of rural communities and conservation”. Provided the Professional Hunter Association standards are maintained, hunting benefits wildlife.

Ian Hurst
Groot Drakenstein

You seem to suggest that nature is only deserving of preservation if there is profit in it for man. I reckon there are a fair number of people prepared tp pay a lot for a licence to shoot a dentist in Minnesota. Ed.

Pravin’s eye

Re your update on SARS spies (nose191): so Pravin is in it up to his ears!

Mike Turner
University of Cape Town

Route to Mars

The ANC government effectively  nationalised the country’s minerals and not a peep was heard from the mining houses who were keen to ingratiate themselves and keep that which they had by “reapplying” for mining licences they already had. Look at the current fiasco!

So it went when the current labour laws were being promulgated. Not a peep from organised labour or the large corporations. Now the land grab in a similar style (“Land grab by stealth” nose191) and hardly a murmur from anyone. No wonder the ANC is emboldened to do just as they like. What is needed? Burning tyres, murdering government officials and politicians, burning government buildings? Will this government then desist from acting arbitrarily to push South Africa down the communist road to ruin?

C L Rust
Kempton Park

The main attraction of the “Marxist” route (and one wonders how many local proponents have read more than a slogan or two coined by the man) is the power it gives to petty politicians and bureaucrats with fake qualifications. And, unlike in free enterprise, someone/everyone else pays for your incompetence.Ed.

Listen up ye execs

Your article “Corobrick at CCMA” (nose191) makes interesting reading. As an HR consultant I am shocked that a company the size of Corobrik conducted what appears to have been a kangaroo court, with no respect for our hard-won progressive labour laws.

May others take note: having an internal chairperson chair eight consecutive hearings certainly creates a perception of bias. Using intimidation tactics, not following laid-down procedures and threatening staff at disciplinary hearings will cost companies dearly, and will prove a huge embarrassment in the CCMA and Labour Courts. I suggest companies like Corobrik take steps to ensure their executives are up to date on how to conduct fair and equitable hearings.

I suppose Allin Dangers, the company-appointed chair, who appears to be a senior person in the company, was following orders to get rid of Pretorius and others at all cost. But how does he live with his conscience, getting rid of fellow employees the way he did?

Charles Robert
North Riding

Journey of love

In response to Kerrin Wilkinson’s experiences as a trans-racial adoptive parent (Black like me”, nose191), we adopted 15 and 13 years ago and  it wasn’t so fraught. Maybe because we were foster parents for a while (with three kids) before adopting? Our son was kept in a “place of safety” till he was six months old, when he could have been with us at two weeks. We got plenty of the “waddabout his/her culture?” from ignorant unthinking people (we smiled and ignored, despite one having a Nigerian father, one an Indian father, one a mixed-race mother – the “concerned idiots” assumed all were Zulu).

It’s been a wonderful journey.

It astonishes me how the adoptive parents’ “race” is thought important for the child and is allowed to trump their simply being good people.

Pete Swanepoel

♦ What a brave couple. I salute you both for taking on this responsibility. It’s a shame the powers-that-be don’t recognise your service to our communities. How lucky these little guys are to have parents like you!

Adrian Ullingworth
(See  “White moms, black tots” in this issue)

Light in the darkness

John Fetter’s misleading statement that “solar power does not work at night when we want to turn our lights on” (Letters, nose190) shows his ignorance in assessing solar power today. May I commend you on your incisive editorial response to it!

My daughter who lives in Roosevelt Park, has installed solar power in her home and when all around in her area are in complete darkness thanks to a power outage, she and her family are sitting watching television, working on their computers or enjoying a warm supper in a heated home, all thanks to solar power. There are myriad such examples to be found worldwide.

Hendrik Davel
Douglasdale, Johannesburg

Insured against disablity claims When Nest Life repudiated a claim for a domestic worker who lost her forearm (Letters, nose189) in the De Doorns bus crash on the grounds that she was not permanently disabled, the insurer suggested that if she was unhappy with its ruling, she should contact the Long-Term Insurance Ombudsman – which she did. Eventually the Ombudsman’s office obtained from NestLife a copy of the policy (duly initialled but which the family had neither seen nor signed), which contained a definition of disability. The last catch-all sentence stated “This cover excludes loss of limbs, the sight of both eyes or the loss of the use of one limb and sight in one eye”. This renders the policy around disability a complete sham and one would have expected the Ombudsman to frown on such immoral policy conditions, especially when these policies are sold to poor people. Instead, they simply forwarded the small print to the victim to justify why NestLife had repudiated the claim.

There are thousands of poor people out there coughing up monthly premiums for these worthless policies, and the Ombudsman clearly doesn’t give a hoot.

Ian Pringle

Road rage over N3 plans

The article in nose190 headed “The Road to Ruin”  begs a response to set the record straight.
In a typically alarmist, controversy-causing article, Noseweek has chosen to proffer an all-too-simplistic argument: why build a new roadway across the Drakensberg when Van Reenen’s Pass can be improved?

The Van Reenen’s Pass was built in 1961. Through the years sections of the road were widened, realigned or resurfaced to maintain it to the highest standards and accommodate the growing traffic volumes.

The alignment of the road, the steep gradients and the sharp curves mean that, from an engineering and safety perspective, it will be impractical, due to the outlined geotechnical limitations, to make further extensive upgrades and the safety of the road-user would be at risk and compromised. An alternative, complementary road is the only viable alternative.

The proposed De Beers Pass section of the N3 will be a 99 km dual carriageway linking Keeversfontein in KwaZulu-Natal with Warden in the Free State. It crosses the Drakensberg escarpment about 30 km to the north of the existing road and will reduce the distance between the Tugela Plaza and Warden by more than 15km.

The R103/N3 past Harrismith and across Van Reenen’s Pass will remain in place and will be maintained by SANRAL according to the standards applicable to all national roads.

Once the De Beers Pass has been completed there will thus be two highways crossing the Berg, which will significantly ease current congestion on the long and winding Van Reenen’s Pass and improve the safety, comfort and productivity of all road-users.

SANRAL is concerned about the growing number of traffic incidents on the Van Reenen’s Pass route, that result in the closure of the road and great inconvenience. Total closure time increased from just less than 80 hours on the southbound road in 2011 to 96.5 hours in 2013. On the northbound road this grew from 88.25 to 102 hours. This can be attributed to growing traffic volumes on a mountainous road known for its steep gradients, choke points and bottlenecks.

A new highway will help eliminate frustrations experienced by road-users, especially during peak periods, reduce travel time between Tugela Plaza and Warden by up to 30 minutes and increase safety by 30 to 60 percent. But the most important benefit will be its impact on the broader economic development of the region. A number of studies and policy papers produced in recent years – including the National Development Plan, the White Paper on National Transport and the Road Infrastructure Strategic Framework – have emphasised the urgent need for a good road network to expedite the movement of goods and people, facilitate trade, create employment and reduce infrastructural bottlenecks.

The De Beers Pass road meets these national objectives, and will expedite rejuvenation of the country’s most important logistics corridor. At its Durban terminus the road will contribute to long-term expansion of our busiest port, meeting growing demands on the movement of imports and exports vital to national and regional economies.

Initial studies indicate that more than 26 600 jobs – direct and indirect – will be created over the life of the project and the transfer of skills that occurs with the project will result in lasting benefits to communities.
Because the existing Van Reenen road will remain operational, the impact on the economy of towns such as Harrismith will be marginal, and reduce conflict between local and through-traffic, improving traffic safety and mobility. Road-users will have a choice of two roads and access to tourism and leisure attractions in the region will remain intact.

With Durban handling over 40% of imports and exports and Gauteng being the country’s economic heartland (generating over 33% of GDP), there is need for the best economic and technical solutions to ensure the flow of freight between these two points.

The Durban-Free State-Gauteng corridor, by far the most important economic corridor in the country, is expecting massive increases in freight volumes, from 762 million tons a year in 2011 to 1.93 billion tons by 2041.

Thus an alternate route is imperative to reduce logistics, operational and transport costs; encourage infrastructure investment, create jobs and improve safety levels.

Vusi Mona
General Manager of Communications, Sanral, Johannesburg

♦ When I first visited van Reenen’s pass 55 years ago as an engineering student, my companion, an SAR&H engineer, was at some pains to point out the unstable geology of the pass. At my last visit some 30 years back the road had rather alarming structural cracks. There’s every possibility that one day the whole lot will slide off toward the sea. I suggest Barry Sergeant take a hike up and down the road, accompanied by a geologist or geomorphologist and a road engineer, to explain what he’s looking at in terms of risks and costs.

Should Van Reenen’s be closed, the alternatives are Olifantshoek or Majuba. Neither would cope. Geologically De Beer’s Pass is the preferable route. It has massive and stable sandstone formations. The rest of the route will undoubtedly affect some wetlands, but mitigating measures are available.
Unlike e-tolling, there will be an alternative – Van Reenen’s (while the road is still there, that is).

As for Harrismith – well, the same fate befell Villiers, Warden, Ladysmith, Estcourt, and Mooi Rivier on N3, Winburg, Colesberg, Uncle Charlies roadhouse and Bela Bela on N1, Humansdorp and Margate on N2 and many others. Only Uncle Charlies didn’t survive. Harrismith is no special case.

Paul Fanner
By email

♦ Regarding Mr Fanner’s letter (above), the De Beers Pass route was designed more than 40 years ago when the engineering preference was regarded as the way to go. Times and circumstances have changed: today people, jobs and livelihoods are paramount, water per capita is critical, and the will of the people matters.

Mr Fanner says impacts can be mitigated. Perhaps he can explain how a wetland continues to function – store water, attenuate floods, purify water, sequester carbon and support biodiversity – with a road built over it. The De Beers road will destroy nearly four square kms of prime wetland under its footprint, whereas the alternative will displace just over one square km of already damaged wetland. This isn’t all. Roads concentrate and dirty runoff, and my estimate is that mitigation is only about 30% effective.

SA is a water-scarce country. As our population doubles in the next 35 years our predicament will worsen two-fold. If a mountain is crumbly engineers can fix the road over it, at some expense. But lost water resources are poorly fixable at any price.

Perhaps Mr Fanner might like to tell a packed Harrismith town hall that thousands of jobs and still more livelihoods are less important than making the Jhb-Durban route 14 km shorter and 10 minutes quicker (with users paying a massively increased toll fee to service a new R10 billion debt).

Mike Mentis
By email

♦ Unless engineers and geologists get out of “tunnel vision” they could destroy the whole environment before they wipe the “sh*t from their eyes”. It’s tragic an engineer can be so flippant about the destruction of wetlands, actually believing that mitigating measures overcome the destructive effect that road building, runoff and tunnelling has on the environment in general and wetlands in particular.

 In his expert report on the impact of the De Beers Pass road Mike Mentis did well to indicate two issues at play:
1. That the DEIR misrepresent and downplay the impact of roads on wetlands and,
2.  Mitigation practices applied to the impact roads have on wetlands. are truly ineffective.

I strongly advise Paul Fanner to research this topic – a task less daunting than hiking the pass with a bunch of engineers and geologists (God forbid). But if you were to take Paul up on his hiking challenge, don’t fixate on the massive sandstone or lack thereof –  engineers are good at the rectification of structural deficiencies (although I think the N3 down Town Hill in PMB has got the better of them).

 Instead cast your eyes further afield – to the grassland (somewhat overgrazed) which is diminishing in size but in this particular area is home to a unique flocking ritual of Grey Crowned, Blue and, recently, the scarce Wattle Cranes.  A sight to behold where some 400 of these birds get together to teach their young about the “facts of life”. Without this ritual they are doomed. It is the grassland habitat they seek not the sandstone that so attracts the engineers. The De Beers Pass road cuts right through the middle of this pristine grassland. For the birds there is nowhere else to go. The rest of their habitat is already destroyed – a lot of it by the existing N3. Why, for goodness sake threaten these birds, which include our national bird, for a mere 14km saving on a trip between JHB and Durban?

At the top of Van Reenen’s Pass, look towards the east and you’ll see a miniature version of Table Mountain. Nothing spectacular in that, except that it hosts one of the remaining 100 breeding pairs of Bearded Vultures left in the Southern Hemisphere. There is documented evidence from, among others, the Katse Dam that any development within 10km radius will be the end of an era. The proposed De Beers Pass route will pass within 3km of the nest. Funny that the demise of these splendid birds will see increased activity from ravens feeding on road kill. 

I could go on to include the Sungazer Lizard and a host of special flowers and precious trees that are to be destroyed because of our insensitive attitude and 14 km on the “road less travelled”.

I will not comment much on the destruction of Harrismith as a town as, according to Paul, it will join an endless list – which apparently makes it OK.

There is an existing road that can be upgraded and improved with the help of geologists and engineers, avoiding great losses to nature and the environment and misery to large numbers of people Surely we can all agree on that? Let’s not be led by deceit and greed. 

Rick Dillon
Chairman Nelsons Kop Conservancy

Old Roads

The road out of Klerksdorp
is a hard road.
The road to Potch, to Jo’burg –
people get killed.
There was a smashed-up car
on top of a building,
and an aeroplane
on the roof of a petrol station.
I don’t think that one was an accident
but as a child I did.

The road to Braamfontein – where I
studied the city’s history
to teach to children – I never found out who this Braam was,
and the other Bram, no one spoke of him;
I just taught the syllabus,
the names of roads –
Barry Hertzog, Jan Smuts, D.F. Malan
and Hendrik Verwoerd.

Robben Island was a land beyond the sea.
Christine Coates
(from Homegrown, Modjaji Books)

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