Berg Alert 2019

07 Jan 2019 21:25 - 23 Jan 2019 00:30 #74469 by intrepid
Berg Alert 2019 was created by intrepid
This is the place for all updates, incidents and observations relating to security issues in the Drakensberg in 2019.

The kind of thing which should be reported here:
* new incidents of theft, mugging or any kind of verbal or physical intimidation (whether it is experienced first-hand, seen in the media, or heard through the grape vine).
* new observations of the activities of shepherds, smugglers and other parties, especially as it concerns the safety of visitors to the Berg.
* any other snippet of information or comment about the current state of affairs relating to security.

The purpose of this thread is to maintain a true picture of what is happening in the Berg, to keep a concerned Berg community informed, and to create a healthy awareness of security issues which will help others avoid problems. It is not the intention to create a media hype or undue negative publicity for the Berg, nor to harm tourism the area, and definitely not to create prejudice against the Basotho and other locals living in the area. The traits that lead to crime and other security- related incidents in the Berg are traits that are common to human nature in general and are not tied to a specific culture or nation.

We advise visitors to the Berg to take the security issues seriously - but rather than being alarmed and avoiding going there, we want people to be informed on what the issues are exactly and how they occur - and to make decisions accordingly. We want people to keep hiking in the Berg.

We also encourage people to appreciate the cultures of the local people that can be encountered in the Berg and even to learn some local words and phrases. Wherever possible let your encounters with the locals be friendly and interactive. Many encounters can be very rewarding. If you do find yourself in a tense situation, do your utmost to maintain respect and stay calm. Some helpful notes on Basotho culture have been written for hikers and travelers .

Historical threads:
* Berg Alert 2010
* Berg Alert 2011
* Berg Alert 2012
* Berg Alert 2013
* Berg Alert 2014
* Berg Alert 2015
* Berg Alert 2016
* Berg Alert 2017
* Berg Alert 2018

The known issues during the last 5 years are as follows:
Amphitheatre and Khubedu Valley: Raiding of tents at the Tugela Falls and surrounds in an old issue which is ongoing. Intimidation for handouts also occurs in the area, including the Chain Ladders, which has been known to result in stone-throwing. There was a nasty incident in the Khubedu Valley in 2016 which received a lot of publicity - the details of this incident can be read on this thread his thread . There have been reports of hikers encountering individuals from the Lesotho Defence Force in the area, who sometimes ask to see passports, and there have also been cases where the hikers were harassed by them. Hikers venturing onto the escarpment should carry their passports on them.

Mbundini area
: tented camps have been attacked and raided at night, particularly at the unmarked pass overlooking Madonna And Her Worshippers, near Rat Hole Cave.

Ntonjelana Pass: during the December 2018-January 2019 period two different hiking groups encountered a group of 3 armed individuals claiming to be from the Lesotho Defence Force in the general escarpment area near the top of Ntonjelana Pass. The encounters were tense - the details of which can be read on this same thread.

Rhino Peak / Mashai Pass: There have been a few reports of intimidation and rock throwing by shepherds.

Hodgesons / Masubasuba Pass / Sani: There was a mugging in 2015 on the pass, and apparently various cases of tourists being pressured for handouts around the top of Sani Pass.

For more information read through General Security Precautions , and also read this post  on the security issues around the Amphitheatre as well as the Mbundini area - included is a map indicating where the problems are occurring.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 23 Jan 2019 00:30 by intrepid. Reason: Updated general advisory

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08 Jan 2019 17:08 - 08 Jan 2019 17:15 #74471 by Fat Rucker
Replied by Fat Rucker on topic Berg Alert 2019
Having completed a thoroughly enjoyable Northern Traverse over the new year, I have been reluctant to post about an unsavory Incident, lest it detract from an otherwise great experience.  However, there has since been a similar incident (a friend who was on the NT has since returned to the Berg for another trip this week).

Usually I am extremely reluctant to criticise the Basotho people and I have always found them to be friendly and courteous; in fact, I find a lot of the gratuitous scaremongering on various online platforms distasteful.  Having said that, the incident we experienced at the top of Ntonjelana Pass has compelled me to speak out. 

Two of our party were out ahead of the rest of us and came across a Lesotho soldier there (camo pants, civilian top, and armed with an R4).  Upon the rest of us arriving, he claimed that the two had been ‘rude and disrespectful’ to him in ‘the land of his forefathers’ and, because of this, we were all to be punished. The two in question were Zulus from the Mnweni valley - I strongly suspect that the combination of petty tribalism and his own power trip is was what started him off.

At this point it is worth stating that he had already assualted one of the two with a stick and he was also clearly high (dagga, I assume).  Anyway, he was keen to dish out some military-style ‘opfok’ to our whole party, which included a number of foreigners.  He continually pointed out a hill in the Kwakwatse valley which we were all to run up and down and no amount of reasoning (even a R200 bribe!) would get him to change his mind. Had he not been armed, we would obviously not taken him seriously at all, but he just oozed menace and we could not take any chances given his intoxicated state.  Thankfully, after twenty minutes of fruitless negotiation, a colleague of his came strolling up the valley towards us (civilian bottoms, camo top, also armed with an R4).  It was almost as if they had shared a uniform...

He had a look of exasperation on his face when he saw what was going on which we interpreted as ‘oh God, he’s being full of shit again’.  The more reasonable soldier managed to renegotiate the terms of our punishment with his demented colleague: the two Zulus were to do ten push-ups each.  Putting aside their male Zulu pride, the two duly complied through gritted teeth...  But no, this was not enough for the soldier on a power trip and I was duly instructed to do the same along with said friend!  (The consensus among the rest of the party is that my form during the push-ups was the best of the lot...)

We duly went on our way up the Kwakwatse valley and didn’t stop until we were safely out of sight.  One of our party (a young lass from Australia) was rather traumatised by the experience and took a while to regain her composure.  We managed to put aside the incident - dismissing it as a highly unusual occurrence which had never been experienced in 40 years of hiking (in the case of our party leader) and still thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our hike but...

...this week it has happened AGAIN at the Amphitheatre chain ladders!  Apparently soldiers are harassing hikers as they ascend, telling them they are trespassing.  More worryingly, the friend from the previous hike subsequently heard gunshots!  Putting aside the irony of them doing this while standing on South African soil, this is becoming a rather worrying trend, and we intend to write to the Lesotho Army to address it.  We have clandestine photos of the Ntonjelane incident (including my impressive push-ups) which we will include with the letter/email.  Although I don’t smoke (and never have) I intend to carry a couple of packs of cigarettes with me on future hikes.  Both soldiers were desperate for these, and I suspect we would have been on our way a lot sooner had we had them.  This will in no way deter me from hiking along the Lesotho escarpment, but I thought it prudent to warn the rest of the hiking community about these unfortunate developments.
Last edit: 08 Jan 2019 17:15 by Fat Rucker. Reason: Typos

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08 Jan 2019 23:16 - 11 Jan 2019 09:06 #74481 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Berg Alert 2019
Thank you for the update.

We are definitely seeing a trend now whereby individuals supposedly from the Lesotho Defence Force are harassing hikers, particularly around the Chain Ladders, and demanding to see passports. It has been a struggle to get official reports on this. KZN Wildlife is aware of this trend. The challenge we have when it comes to security incidents in the Berg is that there is a lack of proper reporting. There may be a few incidents that are spoken about within the affected communities, but these are not always properly recorded in writing and sent to the right people. Sometimes things boil over around certain incidents but then the supporting statistics are lacking. Its not that the KZN Wildlife rangers do not take the issue seriously - because they do take it very seriously - its that it is hard for them to get approval of their requests for additional resources to deal with the issue because they don't have the proper reports and the statistics. They also are involved in cross-border committees where this kind of thing is raised, but again, its hard to sit in a meeting and raise something, when you all you have to go by is the odd email of someone that complained.

I appeal to everyone reading this to please submit reports of anything security related, even if it is minor. Please also urge people you know to report what they have encountered. You can report it on this thread, and please also send it to the relevant KZN Widllife Officer (see KZN Wildlife Contact Details link at the bottom of every page). The person to contact for problem along the Amphitheatre is Stephen Richert. You can also report things to the nearest police station over the phone - they apparently have an incident report book for such things. Remember to write down the report number - KZN Wildlife will use that report number and that is why you need to phone it in. I will try to get more information on this procedure and the right numbers to call.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 11 Jan 2019 09:06 by intrepid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, Richard Hunt, Andreas, TheRealDave, MarleyB

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09 Jan 2019 09:16 #74487 by GetaPix
Replied by GetaPix on topic Berg Alert 2019
Thanks for this thread. I believe we encountered the exact same Soldier/s. (as per Geoff's account) I was assisting a friend lagging behind the main group when in the distance I saw the group talking with three men. Two dressed in soldiers uniform and another seeming civilian Basutho. It's not necessary to go in to the full details but when I saw this I was immediately alerted as the type of approach I could see was not the normal way in which these encounters take place. When they seemed to be done talking with the main group, they started walking towards us. I answered the one soldiers questions with much caution being very vague in my answers. His questions was suspect as if to draw some point of contention to the fore. The conversation eventually turned to the Cigarette theme.

When I did catch up with the group the feeling was rather tense and we had one of our young 9 year old hikers a bit traumatised as he seemed to have been the target of crude words and aggressive approach. His dad intervened. All I can say is that I take my hat of for my friend who's son this was as if it had been my son, things could very well have been different.

This trio of "soldiers" then walked away and seemed to linger on the horizon watching us. As the sun was setting I could not do much more as we had really young hikers who already was at their limit for the day. Eventually they disappeared. Not a pleasant experience on what was a great hike. We encountered these three men between the Ntonjelana pass and the Saddle heading towards Rockeries.

I fear this is certainly a time bomb waiting for the wrong time and wrong group.
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09 Jan 2019 11:41 - 09 Jan 2019 11:42 #74491 by Serious tribe
Replied by Serious tribe on topic Berg Alert 2019
Hi Guys

Sorry you had to deal with this, not pleasant.  Brigands are one thing, but R4 toting 'junkies' are another!

So there were two incidents near the top of Ntonjelana Pass.  Geoff you mentioned one, and Getapix you mentioned a second.  However Geoff you mentioned that a friend had also had an incident, is this a third?

Would be able to share the date and time of these two (three) incidents? 
In which direction were you traveling, sounds like south to north?
In which direction did the soldiers disappear?

The question are just to get a better understanding of the dynamics of the incidents, not to heap fuel on the topic. 

Last edit: 09 Jan 2019 11:42 by Serious tribe.

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09 Jan 2019 13:05 #74492 by GetaPix
Replied by GetaPix on topic Berg Alert 2019
From My side the following
Encounter 18th December

Traveling North, ourselves. We summited and crested Ntonjelana Knife/Ridge and dropped down in to the next valley where we were going to camp. They approached us from the north west and kept moving south towards Ntonjelana pass itself, yet remained on the ridge. They did not respond to my question as to where they were going.
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10 Jan 2019 00:52 #74504 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Berg Alert 2019
OK so far in the December-January we have two reports of armed individuals, partly dressed in camos, harassing folk around Ntonjelena Pass. May well be the same crowd. Has anyone else encountered this kind of thing around that area? it's important that we establish how much of a trend this is.
@GetaPix @Fat Rucker: did they claim to present anyone (like military, police etc)? Did they ask to see passports?

@Fat Rucker: can you get more detail on the latest incident at the Chain Ladders, or get those involved to give a report?


Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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10 Jan 2019 10:52 #74505 by GetaPix
Replied by GetaPix on topic Berg Alert 2019
They claimed to be from the Lesotho Defence force/Service.

They only wore camo type pants but had black jackets on and there were no markings, tags, labels by which one can see rank or name. This was the case for two of the "soldiers" The third guy was more dressed like a local Basutho and seemed to have been the militant one. No passport was asked for. In retrospect perhaps they new that we were inside SA borders (which this valley afforded us) but they seemed to steer the conversation in that direction as they wanted to know if I knew where I was. I said yes and pointed him to some peaks which ended that topic

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10 Jan 2019 12:18 - 10 Jan 2019 14:44 #74506 by Fat Rucker
Replied by Fat Rucker on topic Berg Alert 2019
Karl, the Ntonjelana incident was on the 2nd of Jan and we were headed south from Rockeries to Twins Cave,  The Amphitheatre incident was on 7 Jan and the party was summiting to camp at Tugela Falls.  Here's a pic of me doing my punishment, lol!

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Last edit: 10 Jan 2019 14:44 by JonWells. Reason: Duplicate image removed

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10 Jan 2019 15:24 - 10 Jan 2019 20:09 #74507 by Serious tribe
Replied by Serious tribe on topic Berg Alert 2019
You should have made Rambo join you ;-)  

Geoff could you check the metadata of the images and see what time this was.  As Intrepid says, it would be good to get your friends information of their incident up on this thread as well.

Getapix, you said it occurred on the 18 December, could you remember the approximate time of the incident? 

Were you able to converse in english with them to a reasonable degree?

If we could get a good idea of roughly where the incidents took place, we could plot them on the incident map that is on the site.  Might be useful for the future.

I wonder where theses guys are sleeping out if they have some sort of OP near the Ntonjelana area.  
Last edit: 10 Jan 2019 20:09 by intrepid. Reason: Removed duplicate message text

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