New N3 Route to Devastate the Drakensberg

The N3 highway isn’t the only thing that will be shortened with the new plans to reroute it. There’s also the lifespans of the various animals that live in the area earmarked for its construction to consider.
At Oaklands, we’re always pro-development and things that improve our beautiful South Africa, but not at the expense of others. And by others we are not only referring to people. We’re speaking about all living things – humans, plants, animal – so you can only imagine our devastation at the news of the N3 expansion ploughing through our pristine Drakensberg wetlands.

The New N3 Route

Sanral plans on introducing a new route on the N3 that will shorten the travel time between Johannesburg and Durban. The proposed route will be 98 km in length (shaving off 14 km of highway) and have a 120 km/h speed limit, while the current route is 112 km long with a speed limit 120 km/h until Van Reenen’s pass where it changes to 80 km/h.
Keeping the above in mind, it will take approximately 49 minutes to traverse the new De Beers Pass route, while it takes about 65 on the current highway. This means that the new, shorter highway through De Beers Pass will only save travellers approximately 16 minutes in travel time.
Sanral has earmarked more than R1 billion over the next 3 years to roll this project out.

Wildlife in the Drakensberg Wetlands

The Drakensberg is home to a variety of plant and animal life, boasting over 2,000 and almost 300 species, respectively. Of these, a startling 119 plants and 30 bird species are endangered. The above 300 figure makes it home to almost 40% of South Africa’s non-marine avian species – almost half.

Protecting our Wetlands

We’re sure you’re wondering, “Why aren’t these wetlands protected?” Indeed, parts of them are. Take the uKhuhlamba Drakensberg Park, for instance. All 242,813 hectares of it offers a sanctuary to many endangered species of animal and plant life. Unfortunately, the area through which Sanral would like to reroute the N3 highway – Nelson’s Kop – doesn’t fall within the Park’s borders.

Environmental and Economic Impact

Nelson’s Kop is the natural habitat for several endangered bird species. Of these, the bearded vulture is most at risk with only 200 breeding pairs left. The caves, nooks, crannies and crevices of Nelson’s Kop offer ideal nesting places for these threatened birds and, should construction of the N3 go ahead, their habitat will surely be destroyed.
Not only will the Drakensberg’s terrain, plant and animal life bear the brunt of the N3 build, but also the towns along its current route. With travellers being channelled elsewhere, these towns will become isolated and potential business could be lost as a result. The financial and cultural Free State hubs that will be affected are Harrismith, Van Reenen, Swinburne and Warden. Currently, 1,5 million vehicles stop in Harrismith annually with each spending about R650 per stop – an overwhelming R950 million a year.
What do you think about the proposed rerouting of the N3 through De Beers Pass and, thus, Nelson’s Kop?