DRAKENSBERG SAFETY WARNING! Our recent ordeal in the Berg, 15 April 2024

We have recently returned home from an amazing 13-day Drakensberg Grand Traverse adventure.
Unfortunately, we fell victim to a horrifying event on the mountain, and I feel it is important to make other hikers aware of what happened to us. The least I want to do is to cause negative publicity to a place as exceptional as the Drakensberg, BUT I realise that I do have a responsibility to warn other hikers, with the hope that they don’t end up in the same traumatic situation as we were:
On Thursday, 11 April 2024, our group of 5 ladies, 2 guides and 6 porters started the DGT from Sentinel Car Park. On night 4, Sunday the 14th of April, we set up camp at Tlanyaku River late afternoon. Approximately an hour before we reached camp, we encountered a shepherd on the top of the hill, as we were crossing a river, who was shouting, angrily waving his arms around and throwing rocks. He almost appeared like he was ‘ticking’, and all we could make of it was that we was trying to heard his sheep before the rain started. In hindsight, we are thinking that this shepherd might have had something to do with the attack that followed later and that he called for the police & soldiers.
As we arrived at camp, it started raining and there was lightning and thunder, so we all had a very early night. At 1:42 am (15 April), I heard what I thought sounded like a gunshot, followed by an orange flare that went over our tents. My initial thought was that someone was in an emergency and needed help, but the very next moment gunfire started from in the distance, continuing until we could hear the gunshots right next to our tents. The duration of the gunfire felt like an eternity, but our group reckons it carried on for about 15 minutes. I thought we were caught in the middle of tribes fighting against each other, but when the gunfire stopped, we heard them shouting for us to get out of our tents and demanded identification, saying they’d been notified that there were bad, dangerous people in their area. We counted 1 police guy, 6 soldiers, and an unconfirmed number of shepherds, that some have arrived on horses. They were armed with machine guns. The police guy seemed calm, but the 1 soldier, a shortish guy, was extremely aggressive and instigated most of the interrogation. He seemed like he was on something and told one of the ladies to “Shut the f@ck up”.They said that we were in Lesotho illegally, that they were going to deport us and took photos of some of our passports. They carried on about “Where are the white men? Why would women be here without their husbands?”, so we explained that we were a hiking group.
They said that they were hoping to ‘have a good time tonight’.Repeatedly they asked if we had guns, alcohol or cigarettes, but we told them that we didn’t have, and one lady offered them her food and money, but they didn’t seem interested in that. They also asked if we had meat on us. It started raining again and I thought that that might make them leave, but they just angrily carried on their interrogation. They demanded our 1 guide & porters to stand on their 1 knee, with their noses and faces in the ground, 1 arm behind their back, and when they lost their balance and fell over, they beat them with a stick all over their head and body. They cocked the gun and held it against their heads, execution style. They said that they’ll show us how they’ll make the guide & porters talk.
Some correspondence was in their Basotho language, which we couldn’t understand. During this whole ordeal, 3 soldiers left, and it seemed like they went up the hill for signal to make a call. They told us to go into our tents and to not leave until they came back for hot coffee later in the morning so that they could watch what we had with us, what we packed in our bags. They discovered that we had a satellite phone, but couldn’t figure out how it worked. Eventually, they left with the satellite phone, our guide’s ID/guiding certification card, 2 head torches and a pair of hiking poles, but shortly afterward, they returned with the satellite phone, hiking poles, and our guide’s certification card, they only kept the 2 head torches.
They then made the guide and porters sing a song, to prove that they were Zulu. After they left again, we were shivering and shaking from a combination of shock and from being cold and wet from the rain.
After sunrise, we all came out of our tents, discussed what happened, and tried to make some sense of the whole ordeal. There were many used bullets scattered around our campsite. We waited some time for their return, as they demanded, but we thought that since they returned most of the items they initially took, they probably wouldn’t come back. We used our satellite phone to contact authorities to report the incident as an emergency, packed up, and left as soon as we could, hoping that they wouldn’t follow us.

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Yes I have noticed on my FB posts a lot of Lesotho citizens being very radical and abusive so much so that I have band them from my profile - and much of what you said of demanding that we are illegally in Lesotho and need to “F@CK” of and the herd boys on top also seems to be a bit more demanding when asking for food, cigarettes and money. SO far we had not been attacked but have been subjected to some sort of verbal abuse - unfortunatly I don’t understand Sotho so can comment on what was actually said.

@Berghiker
So you’e saying the problem seems to be on the increase?

I do find this idea of “deportation” and being there “illegally” somewhat retarded. They must be blind to all their own poaching, smuggling and such criminal activities. Specifically as we don’t need a visa.

I wonder what’s fuelling this trend, if there is a trend, or is it just the usual social media poison as per…

I would say there are a bit of a shift in the normal more risky areas - I have had two incidences where I was asked for food and whiskey and on telling them them we don’t have any they tried to snatch items from our bags. Both times this was close to the Amphitheatre area where we know there are issues. I now carry pepper spray for incase but this could be seen as an escalation of a situation and make things worse.
For the FB - yes normal rants but this got very personal between the different comments and my feeling is that my page is for the love of hiking not geo-political issues.

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Hi Anile thanks for the warning. I am very sorry to hear about your ordeal, it must have been an awful and a traumatic experience. It is concerning for many reasons but the fact the the police and the military is involved who is supposed to keep law and order is a shame. If these thugs aren’t persecuted and stopped then it will unfortunately be repeated and experienced by another group of hikers. Congrats on finishing the DGT even after this horrible experience, your group can be proud of yourselves!

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