Park to RIP

After almost 20 years of adrenaline-pumping fun, Ratanga Junction closes its doors on Monday May 1. The Cobra was considered the main attraction of the rustic African-themed amusement park.

Thrill seekers have one last chance to catch their favourite rides at Ratanga Junction this weekend.

On Tuesday May 1, the wildest place in Africa closes its doors after 19 years of spine-chilling adrenaline pumping scream-your-lungs out fun.

Ticket prices have been slashed from R179 to R95 for full adventure rides the last few weekends.

The N1’s landscape will certainly be different without the menacing yellow Cobra protruding metres above the park’s wall.

Both the Cobra and Bushwacker rollercoasters have been sold to an operator who plans to take them offshore.

As for the other rides, they will either be sold or relocated, but none will be scrapped, says Maggie Rowley, marketing and communications manager for the park’s owners, Rabie Property.

Ms Rowley joined Monex, the developer of Ratanga in August 1997 and was part of the team that selected the rides.

She credited Martin Wragge, CEO of Monex, for creating Ratanga Junction.

“Martin was a theme-park junkie, and he had visited many theme parks around the world.

He took a team from Monex to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Convention in Orlando in 1997, and they also visited a number of parks in America to make a ride selection,” said Ms Rowley.

Many of the skills required to assemble and run Ratanga had to be imported.

Ride park engineers were bought over to assemble the rides and the first general manager was an American who trained South Africans to take over.

“Martin Wragge wrote a whole fictional story about Ratanga Junction and its origins and the whole rustic African theming of the park was based on this.

“The original Ratanga mascots were characters in this back story, which over the years got forgotten and the characters evolved. In more recent years, they were replaced with more Disney-like characters, namely Maggie, Murphy and Gyro,” she said.

Yet even as one of Cape Town’s most popular spots, Ratanga was unable to cover the high capital costs and operational overheads.

In 2004, Rabie Property bought into Century City and Ratanga was part of the package.

Changes started being made such as closing the park during off-season and adding an all-year round conference centre.

Ms Rowley said while these measures had helped to turn the park around financially, they had not been enough to justify its continued existence.

While new attractions such as ziplines and the Slinghot were brought in regularly, Crocodile Gorge – the water ride that left you drenched – and Diamond Devil Run – usually the prelude to the Cobra for most – made way for Century City Square.

The development includes the Century City Conference Centre which can accommodate 1 900 delegates over 20 venues, a 125- room hotel, 15 000m2 of offices, 51 apartments, showrooms and restaurants all set around a public square and over a basement parking garage.

Ratanga has been run using a mixture of permanent, contract and seasonal workers.

The 38 permanent staff members were sadly being retrenched, said Ms Rowley.

“We are assisting those who need help with their CVs and, wherever possible, we will absorb them elsewhere in the group,” she said.

* What will replace Ratanga Junction?

Housing developments ranging from studio- to four-bedroom apartments will be built by Rabie Properties and sold on the market.

Ms Rowley said that when Ratanga closed, rides would be decommissioned and removed and a great deal of work would need to be done reconfiguring and servicing the Ratanga terrain to accommodate the planned
120 000m2 mixed-use redevelopment before work could start.

“While individual projects are still being finalised, the overall vision for the redevelopment of Ratanga remains that of a mixed-use development comprising commercial, residential and hospitality/leisure components set around waterways and a public park,” she said.

The redevelopment would happen over several years, the exact timing depending on market demand.

“We are still going through the approval processes with council, and it is unlikely that we will be in a position to announce any specific projects in detail much before the end of the year,” said Ms Rowley.