Reclaiming Table Mountain

It is one of Cape Town’s most enduring tourist attractions.

Table Mountain’s beloved, squat silhouette dominates every aspect of South Africa’s Mother City. But its reputation for sunset spectaculars and blooming biodiversity has been tarnished by a spate of muggings that has sent jitters through visitors and tourism authorities ahead of the busy Christmas season.

In a bid to reclaim the mountain, the South African National Parks authority last week introduced security measures that include round-the-clock patrols using dozens of volunteer monitors, dog units and surveillance cameras.

“And if that’s not enough, we will do more,” declared Environment and Tourism Minister Martinus van Schalkwyk. “We can’t allow Table Mountain, which is a symbol of Cape Town tourism and South African tourism, to become somewhere where we don’t feel safe.”

There have been more than 30 reported muggings on the mountain this year.
The rate has picked up dramatically in recent weeks with the start of the southern hemisphere summer, despite efforts to track down perpetrators by helicopter.

Authorities note only a handful of the four million people who visit Table Mountain National Park each year were affected. But they are painfully aware that international headlines about knifepoint robberies do little to shake off South Africa’s reputation as a haven for violent crime.

One option is to fence off part or all of the park, a breathtakingly beautiful 60km sliver of valleys, peaks, forests and beaches stretching from Signal Hill near Cape

Town to Cape Point on the south coast. But Van Schalkwyk dismisses this suggestion.

“It would be too expensive, and it would be the end of Table Mountain as we know it,” he said. “The real solution is to do the opposite. We need to increase public access to the park and the mountain. Our aim is to turn hot spots into safe spots - by promoting access and reclaiming vulnerable areas.”

As part of these efforts, the government has introduced a series of new trails.

The Hoerikwaggo People’s Trail, which opened earlier this year, aims to attract the deprived youth of the grim Cape Flats townships.

The name—unpronounceable even to many South Africans—is based on the one used by the Cape’s original inhabitants, the Khoi Khoi and San tribes, and means Sea Mountain.

Last week, authorities opened the Table Mountain Trail, aimed at well-heeled tourists able to pay R600 a day for a three-day guided hike highlighting the complex cultural history of Cape Town.

Participants take a cable car to the top of the mountain and ramble down the gentle slopes to the majestic Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. Overnight accommodation for groups of up to 16 is in a tastefully refurbished lodge at the base of the mountain and a reservoir watch tower on the top. Luggage is transported separately.

Next year, the parks authority wants to add a third trail—Tip to Top—passing from the tip of Cape Point to the top of the Cape Peninsula. It will offer visitors a challenging six-day hike through the national park, staying in tents.

In December 2007, with an eye toward an anticipated tourism boom for the soccer World Cup in 2010, a new trail between the Point and the Peninsula will include more luxurious accommodation.

The Tourism Ministry has spent R5-million over the past three years to build the new accommodation and 350km of trails.

Razeena Wagiel, a senior parks official, hopes the new amenities will enhance the popularity of what is already one of the nation’s most successful tourism attractions.

“It is the most visited park of all in South Africa. Many people come from all over the world to visit Table Mountain because of its biological biodiversity,” she said.

“And we want to keep it that way.” - Sapa-AP