An update from South Africa


The following update is courtesy of Greg Moseley, President of the Mountain Club of South Africa and UIAA Management Committee member.

We live in difficult times. However, the Mountain Club of South Africa has been attempting to do what is possible under the circumstances.

Currently, we are delighted to be able to report that there has been an easing of restrictions under the new Covid-19 Level 3 regulations (South African version) promulgated on 1 June.

Some mountain areas, critical to the mountaineering in South Africa, have now been opened up. These include most of Table Mountain National Park, Golden Gate National Park and parts of the Garden Route National Park.

This is great news for those climbers and people who love to walk in the mountains who are able to access those areas. Other parts of the country will unfortunately have to wait and see whether other landowners and statutory bodies, e.g. the provincial conservation authorities, follow suit. The MCSA is continuing to work towards this end.

The Club has always attempted to manage the situation bearing in mind all mountaineers and climbers in South Africa, and we certainly have some sympathy for the government’s efforts to control the spread of the virus even if they did seem somewhat heavy-handed in the beginning. We were careful to tread lightly in our responses.

The MCSA did put two initiatives in place early in the “hard” lockdown. One, involved the search and rescue personnel who, together with the air transport authorities are doing their best to ensure that they remain current. In the event of accidents in mountain areas, they need to be comfortable in their role as rescuers.

The other part was initiated by the one of the larger sections of the Club and morphed into a national response. It became apparent that some of the MCSA properties absolutely needed to be maintained (fire-breaks and the like), and we thus made submission to national government for this work to be designated as “essential”.

All of this, together with our well-known outreach activities involving disadvantaged youth, served to give us a voice that allowed us to make submissions to government on behalf of all mountain users for access to the hills once more. During the period of the hard lock-down, the MCSA President wrote to various ministers/government bodies stating our belief that while:

“we are fully supportive of the South African government’s measures to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus and believe that we can now look forward to a gradual and safe return to normality. There are various areas of the country where the people of South Africa are accustomed to hike and climb and generally enjoy the physical and spiritual exercise that these natural areas provide. We would encourage you to consider opening these areas as soon as is practicable, in line with the best scientific advice that we know that you are getting.”

And further:

“It is quite feasible, and in fact is generally the case, to undertake these activities in a safe and socially distant manner thus creating the opportunity for many people from all walks of life to re-invigorate themselves after this difficult time. While not wishing to “second guess” the governmental programme for the re-opening of the economy, we urge you to consider the health and well-being of the people of South Africa that would be enhanced by an opening up of the natural areas that we all love so much. Lessons have been learned and people are going to take care, and behave responsibly.”

In our actions, we are in good agreement with the approach taken by the UIAA in its world-wide capacity as the voice of mountaineering and climbing. In fact, the UIAA, through its Covid-19 response team, have put out good, generic guidelines for mountain activities during the pandemic which is forming the basis of our national response.

By behaving and acting responsibly we can come out of this crisis all the stronger.

The hills remain.