Splendid rainbows are a feature of KwaZulu’s central Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains.
But the mountain range no longer towers above a rainbow nation, laments John Tungay, who founded the famous Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School and was a facilitator of negotiations during the final days of apartheid.
He feels it will help if the name of former president Nelson Mandela finds its way onto the map.
He wants the 3 149-metre Cathkin Peak, known in isiZulu as Mdedelolo, to become Mount Mandela; or at least to have the name Mandela incorporated into it.
“If there’s such a Mandela icon, one can in times of great trouble refer back to such leaders of the past whom we can honour,” says Tungay who now lives in Howick, in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.
“And we can revert to being a rainbow nation because we aren’t one now.”
He says: “I would think Mandela is above ordinary party politics.”
While Tungay’s proposal has not yet reached official channels, it has prompted responses in letters to the editor in his town’s newspaper, Village Talk.
A “member of the Zunckel family” — a name associated with the mountain range — requests Tungay to “please leave the naming of the peaks in our beloved berg alone”.
Guest of honour
He fails to find any reference to Mandela in his research about the mountains, whether climbing the berg or assisting with berg rescues.
However, Tungay says Madiba was guest of honour at a music concert attended by 300 people on a piece of flat ground near the summit of Cathkin Peak in 1995.
Mandela, three choirs, other guests and support staff reached the spot by helicopter.
The on-site tuning of a piano at such high altitude was even submitted to the Guinness Book of Records.
Tungay was not there himself, but Bunny Ashley-Botha, the former director of music at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School, was there.
“It was a perfect day,” he recalls.
“A helicopter flew above us with what was the new flag on the end of a stick. It flew over a gap between Cathkin Peak and Monk’s Cowl.
“President Mandela said he wanted to stay on and meet all the performers and kitchen staff. They all lined up to meet this wonderful man on top of the mountain overlooking KwaZulu-Natal.”
The concert marked the 75th anniversary of the South African National Air Force.
Ashley-Botha says he had often complained to the Air Force that the noise its choppers at a nearby base interfered with singing practices at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School.
“I got in touch with the chief of the Air Force who decided on the concert to reward us for all the disturbances.”
The school’s choir was one of three that performed.
‘Should be left to stand’
Another letter writer Martin Winter says: “The history of the naming of Cathkin Peak is an interesting one that dates back to 1863, so surely this should be left to stand.
“It is no way politically offensive and it is part of the history of the mountain, having been named by people with a keen interest in the mountain at the time.
“It would indeed be unwise to set a precedent of renaming Drakensberg peaks after prominent South Africans no matter how great their services may have been.
“A present or future authority could well ignore or over-ride years of pioneering history that had gone before.”
Winter notes that Cathkin Peak features frequently in the Journals of the Mountain Club of South Africa that commenced in 1897.
“The first ascent of Cathkin Peak in 1912 would have been recorded in the annals of the Drakensberg Club formed in 1910 and later in 1919, by the Natal Mountain Club.
“The naming, and particularly the renaming of peaks in the Drakensberg, should be the concern of those organisations whose aims are, amongst others, ‘to initiate and support the actions towards the protecting the natural beauty and wilderness character of the mountains’, or at the very least, in consultation with them.”
However, Tungay says that having a mountain called Mount Mandela would have economic spin-offs.
“In years to come, when people from overseas visit KwaZulu-Natal, many will want to see a mountain named after South Africa’s most famous and revered citizen.
“The best place for this happens to be in the central Drakensberg where there are already splendid hotels and hundreds of houses that are let out.”
Tungay says he sees no chance of the destruction of the Drakensberg to create a feature like that on Mount Rushmore, where the heads of early United Sates presidents are carved into the landscape.
“Our San paintings throughout the Drakensberg are our highest art forms and long may they remain so.” — Sapa