Reflecting on the history of cableway

The current cable car.

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) used to put budget aside to refund women who had their silk stockings ripped by fynbos on the mountain.

That’s just one fun fact about the TMACC, which for over 90 years has provided one of Africa’s biggest tourist attractions and has given millions of visitors a unique and undoubtedly unforgettable experience.

At the end of the decade of prosperity and dissipation, also known as the “Roaring Twenties”, passengers in Cape Town took their first cable car trip to the top of Table Mountain. Since its official opening on October 4 1929, to much fanfare, the cableway has undergone three major upgrades and regular maintenance.

Today, it is a feature of the famous landmark that many are accustomed to seeing, but not many people know how and why the project got off the ground.

Managing director, Wahida Parker said the cableway’s history dates back to the 1870s when there were proposals to build a railway along the mountain’s slopes to make it easier for the public to reach the summit.

She said although the initial plan was to build a funicular railway, the development phase of the project was halted by the advent of the First World War. “There was little movement until 1926, when Norwegian engineer, Trygve Stromsoe, proposed the construction of a cableway,” she said.

The building of the lower and upper stations, along with a tearoom at the summit, was nothing short of a phenomenal engineering feat, taking two years to complete at a then staggering cost of £60 000.

A rudimentary track for a “soapbox” to transport workers, equipment and building materials was constructed, as well as temporary housing for the workers.

The result was a wooden cable car with a tin roof that took nearly 10 minutes to carry 19 people and a conductor up the 704 meters to the summit.

During this time, the company also had a small budget for silk stockings, as ladies tended to snag their hosiery on the fynbos.

Since then, the cableway has transported over 29 million visitors, making the trip in half the time, complete with a 360 degree rotational view of the mountain and spectacular views over the city of Cape Town.

“In October 1997, modern cable cars with rotating bases and increased passenger capacity were installed, making them a world-class experience similar to only a handful of other cableways in the world,” said Ms Parker.

Today, the Cableway has a Platinum Heritage Environmental Rating, which is the highest level of responsible tourism status.

Table Mountain was also inaugurated as one of the New7Wonders of Nature in December 2012, and is the most accessible of the New7Wonders and is the only one to be found in a city.

The company also received the Best Resources Management accolade at the African Responsible Tourism Awards in 2019, along with a number of other achievements and rewards.

“A lot has changed since that first trip in 1929, but the cableway remains one of Cape Town’s biggest tourist attractions, transporting approximately a million people annually and counting,” said Ms Parker.