PATH OF DESTRUCTION
Blow to Wild Coast tourism as iconic hotel shuts its doors
The iconic Mazeppa Beach Hotel on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast has closed its doors, blaming the state of the road as a major contributing factor to its downfall. The hotel’s closure is a significant loss of a major tourism attraction in the area known for its fishing, unspoilt beaches and birdlife.
When tourists had to deal with ruined tyres on the road into and out of Mazeppa Bay on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, tour operator Owen Richter knew the writing was on the wall.
“I have a house in Mazeppa Bay, and in the past few years the roads have just become worse and worse,” he said.
“If you take the road from Centane to Mazeppa Bay you will see very little left there. The road has been washed away. There are just rocks sticking out now. That road cuts up tyres like you won’t believe. Parts of the road have been washed away. You can’t drive there with a car,” he said.
“Alles is moer toe [everything has gone to the dogs],” he sighed.
Richter, who has been a tour operator in the Eastern Cape for many years, said the typical tourist did not rent a 4×4 vehicle, but rather a small sedan. It was no longer possible to drive safely on that road with such a vehicle.
“My wife and son stopped to help a driver the other day. She was in a Polo Vivo and that car was just sliding all over that road. It couldn’t get up the hill.”
“I saw a grader on that road the other day, but we already know it will just rain once and then the road will no longer be usable. The contractors are not being paid so they leave. That specific stretch of road is 60km long.”
Richter said you had to drive so slowly on that road now that the trip took three to four hours.
He said property owners in Mazeppa Bay had also closed the suspension footbridge to Mazeppa Bay Island in December because it has become very dangerous to use.
“Now that it needs repairs it is suddenly nobody’s bridge,” he said. “No government or municipality wants to take responsibility for it.”
“I am losing a lot of business through this,” he said. “We now have no hotel and no bridge. People don’t want to have their corporate events here anymore.”
“Even friends who come visit me in Mazeppa Bay will say if they knew the road was so bad they wouldn’t have come,” Richter said.
“Some people lose tyres on the way to Mazeppa Bay and again on the way back,” he said.
Blow to tourism
On 27 January, Mazeppa Bay Hotel manager Vanessa Fisher sent out letters to guests and service providers to announce that the hotel was closing:
“It is with a heavy heart and sincere regret that we announce the closure of our beloved Mazeppa Bay Hotel. The last trading day would be on 27 January 2024 …We have tried all avenues to keep the hotel open and operational since [the Covid-19 pandemic], however, we have simply not been able to recover from the negative financial impact that [the pandemic] had caused the business.
“The poor road infrastructure and lack of road maintenance by our provincial/local government … also played a major role in the poor financial performance of the business,” she added.
The Democratic Alliance’s leader in the Eastern Cape, Andrew Whitfield, said apart from the tragic closure of the hotel, the DA had also received “a number of desperate complaints from the agriculture sector regarding the state of roads with farmers across the province crying out for the provincial government to intervene before it is too late”.
“Currently, many farmers are repairing roads at their own cost, which is neither fair nor sustainable.”
The Department of Roads and Transport was one of the provincial departments singled out for failing to deliver services after a three-year investigation by the Public Protector.
But the department has always maintained it is not given enough money to carry out its duties. Roads and Transport MEC Xolile Nqatha has admitted that damage to the provincial road network stems from inadequate maintenance over the years, mainly due to underfunding. He said R800-million had been allocated to road maintenance this financial year, but closer to R3.8-billion was needed annually.
Read more in Daily Maverick: R3.8bn a year – how much the Eastern Cape needs to fix potholes and maintain roads
Whitfield said: “Tourism and agriculture are major contributors to the GDP of the Eastern Cape, reaching into every corner of the province and propping up most of our small towns. These sectors are the backbone of the rural economy and they deserve the premier’s urgent attention – without roads there is no economy. By ignoring the rapid deterioration of our rural road network, the premier is taking jobs out of homes and food off the plates of our citizens.”
He has asked Premier Oscar Mabuyane to prioritise the province’s roads, calling for a special appropriation bill to rescue rural roads in the province.
Last year, the South African Human Rights Commission also began an investigation into the condition of roads in the Eastern Cape as it related to the access of ambulances and other medical vehicles to communities and health facilities. The Public Protector’s Office also investigated several complaints about the dire state of the province’s roads, with a focus on the impact that it had on the work of the police.
But the spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Roads and Transport, Unathi Binqose, said while the department did not want to downplay the role of road infrastructure in economic development, it noted there were other contributing factors to the Mazeppa Bay Hotel’s closure.
“It may be a very complex business problem. We do not know the challenges that they are facing. The road may very well not be the only one. We do not wish to downplay this, but also not over-signify what may have been a very complicated case,” Binqose said. DM