Speech by Minister Paul Mashatile on the official opening of the international conference on “living with world heritage in Africa".

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26 Sep 2012

Programme Director; the Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture in the Republic of South Africa, Dr. Joe Phaahla
The Deputy Director General of UNESCO; Mr. Getachew Engida

Representative of the African Union, Prof Sozinho Francisco Matsinhe

Distinguished Ministers of Culture, Ministers of Tourism, Ministers of Environment and Ministers of Minerals from our Continent

Ministers of the Government of the Republic of South Africa

Members of Executive Councils from Provinces in South Africa, here present
Members of Parliament, here present  

Executive Mayors from municipalities which are home to South Africa’s World Heritage Properties, here present 

Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps

The Chairperson and Members of the Board of Trustees of the African World Heritage Fund

Representatives of businesses with interests in the African continent

Representatives of communities who reside in and in proximity to World Heritage Properties

Heritage Experts

Honored Guests

Members of the Media

Ladies and gentlemen

Fellow Africans;

It is my honor, on behalf of the people and the government of South Africa, to welcome all of you to our country for this important Conference on living with world heritage in Africa.

During your stay in our country, I hope you will find time to enjoy its beauty, its rich and diverse heritage as well as the warmth and hospitality of its people. 

Throughout this Conference we have lined up a number of exciting activities for delegates.

Among these activities is the entertainment to be provided by community groups from the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, as a practical demonstration of benefits for communities living in and around World Heritage Sites. 

I urge all of you to visit this site, which is a place that symbolically underlines that our continent, Africa, is the birthplace of humanity.

Indeed, Africa is the continent we all come from!

Programme Director, this Conference is convened as part of celebrations, by the African Continent, of the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

The South African government is indeed proud to host this major event on our Continent.  

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate African countries for standing in unity and supporting this event, which I believe is ground-breaking in many ways.

I also thank all distinguished Ministers and experts from various disciplines who have committed themselves to participate in the anniversary celebrations and the drafting of the Second African Position Paper on heritage and development.

We hope your participation will mark the beginning of a journey that will bring us closer together on issues relating to our obligation to protect, conserve, showcase and develop our World Heritage Properties, which are of Outstanding Universal Value.   

Your participation will also strengthen our efforts to work together in dealing with the challenges of implementing the World Heritage Convention.


Programme Director, it is fitting that we have convened for this Conference during the month of September, which in South Africa has been declared Heritage Month.

During this month, South Africans from all walks of life, celebrate their rich and diverse, tangible and intangible heritage.

September is a month in which as a nation we remind ourselves of where we come from and most importantly where our future lies.

It is also a month in which we reaffirm that despite our diversity, what unites us far outweighs that which divides us.

In particular this year in South Africa we celebrate heritage month under the theme; “Celebrating the Heroes and Heroines of the Liberation Struggle in South Africa.”
Guided by this theme South Africans are taking time to honour those that made a significant contribution to our liberation struggle, in our country, in the continent and in other parts of the world.

This Conference is also taking place in the year in which the Department of Arts and Culture in South Africa has declared as the year of heritage; focusing specifically on our country’s liberation heritage.

It is for this reason that throughout this year, we have as a country been seized with the task of honouring the heroes and heroines of our struggle for liberation.

This we have been doing by building museums, statues and memorials in their honour, as part of creating new symbols of our young democratic nation, which are reflective of where we come and most importantly are reflective of our shared destiny.
We are doing all of this fully aware that; the South African struggle for liberation, including the centenary of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the ANC, which we are also celebrating this year, is part of the collective memory of our country, of the African Continent and indeed the memory of the world.

Equally we are doing this fully aware of the massive potential of heritage preservation to contribute towards nation building, social cohesion and national healing as well as in ensuring the economic emancipation of our people. 

Programme Director, as we today celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, we can be proud that Africa has made significant progress in ensuring balance and equity on the UNESCO World Heritage List, in particular for African countries.

Over the past two years the African continent has listed no less than 10 sites on the World Heritage List.

We however note that our continent is still underrepresented on the List.

Africa must therefore strive to put forward more of its places of Outstanding Universal Value for nomination to the List.

We must also work hard to improve the status of our existing World Heritage Sites as part of efforts to build a more positive image of our Continent.

Fellow Africans, our successes thus far in ensuring balance and equity in the UNESCO World Heritage List, have in part been made possible by initiatives led by the African World Heritage Fund working together with UNESCO.

Our successes are also due to the much need regional and international cooperation in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. 

I therefore take this opportunity to congratulate African Governments for taking the bold step of establishing the African World Heritage Fund in 2006.

The Fund has gone a long way in strengthening the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

It has also created a platform for dialogue among heritage stakeholders on the continent.

We note with appreciation that the Fund has grown from strength to strength.

Its results speak for themselves in many areas of African heritage preservation and protection.

The South African government, through the Department of Arts and Culture, will continue to support the Fund with financial and technical resources.

To date we have supported the Fund with more than R 11 million, which is about 1.4 million US dollars.

I urge other African Governments, the private sector and individuals to partner with us to ensure the sustainability of the Fund.

Fellow Africans, despite our achievements, Africa remains with many challenges with regards to the preservation and protection of its heritage.

Many world heritage sites that are in danger are found in our continent. Conflict remains a major contributor to this state of affairs.

The recent events in Mali are of concern not only to the people of Mali, but the entire Continent and the world.

As we know, the Malian history opened a new chapter in the understanding of African civilization, instilling significant pride in all of us.

To see this important part of African heritage now being threatened is indeed a major setback.

We also note that in its past few sessions, the World Heritage Committee has had to deal with sustainable development appeals from various parts of our continent, among them, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, in South Africa; Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and many others.

In this regard we wish to make the point that; world heritage should leverage on the potential of the extractive industries in supporting socio-economic development in Africa. 

As a continent we must be ceased with finding solutions that make heritage preservation relevant to communities from an economic perspective.


Programme Director, as part of celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, we must use this Conference to share experiences and develop a common perspective, as Africans, on heritage preservation and sustainable development.

Specifically, we must develop a shared perspective on how to strike a balance between the need for heritage preservation and protection and the equally important need to promote sustainable development on our continent.

Equally this Conference must address the glaring challenges in implementing the World Heritage Convention.

This Conference presents us with an opportunity to align the World Heritage Convention to the needs of Africa and its people, without neglecting our responsibility for conserving our heritage.

In practical terms, we must emerge from this Conference with a common understanding on;

  • The role of World Heritage in the sustainable development agenda in Africa
  • An evaluation of the critical role World Heritage Sites play in improving community livelihoods in Africa.
  • The establishment of a framework to address conservation and development needs on the African Continent; and
  • Providing guidance for policy development at national, regional and continental level on heritage preservation and sustainable development  

The resolutions and declaration of this Conference will be tabled during the final occasion celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, scheduled for Japan in November this year.

Therefore as we are gathered here today we, carry on our shoulders an enormous task of ensuring that Africa speaks with one voice and that our voice is heard by the rest of the world.

Programme Director, sustainable development remains an important issue for the African continent.

The World Heritage Committee and many countries have long recognized the inescapable relationship between World Heritage sites and sustainable development.

In South Africa, we are implementing the Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy which, among others, seeks to ensure that heritage contributes to poverty alleviation, job creation, and infrastructural development for the benefit of communities.

The Mzansi Golden Economy Strategy allows local communities in South Africa to have greater involvement in all aspects of heritage management.

We are delighted that during this Conference the role of local communities in heritage preservation and protection, with an emphasis on their experiences, challenges and opportunities in the implementation of the World Heritage Convention will receive attention.    

During this Conference we must also intensify dialogue with all stakeholders in the heritage preservation and protection sector.

In particular, I would like to appeal to all of you to maintain the dialogue that has been initiated on the continent, between the private and public sectors and with UNESCO, in the build-up to this Conference.

Today, in our midst at this Conference, we have the extractive industries, the private sector in its diversity and the very communities that we serve.

This Conference therefore ushers in a new and inclusive stakeholder framework for implementing good practices in both managing and preserving heritage on the African continent.

Critical to this public-private sector dialogue is the involvement of local communities in the decision making.

Local communities have continued to be marginalized yet they are the creators and custodians of the heritage.

We maintain that; local communities are an important part of our stakeholder engagements efforts.
Going forward, therefore, we must ensure that the World Heritage Convention embraces communities at all levels.
We must do this in order to strive for an inclusive process in the management of heritage resources in Africa.

This will allow us to overcome many of the challenges facing our World Heritage sites, including unlocking the socio-economic benefits associated with heritage in Africa.

It is for this reason that we call on this Conference to take the bold decision that; local communities must be represented at the level of the World Heritage Committee.

Let our deliberations at this Conference lead us to practical recommendations for consideration by the African Union, the UNESCO General Assembly, the World Heritage Committee and stakeholders to the Convention.

This is not an easy task, but one that we must execute with diligence.

Let future generations not condemn us for having failed to represent their aspirations by not coming up with a position that redirects the implementation of the Convention in favor of our continent.

We should strive to develop management strategies that integrate the aspirations of all stakeholders.

We should also create avenues and platforms for an all-inclusive dialogue on the continent.
Programme Director, the South African Government remains committed to further the African Union’s vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.

It is in this spirit that we look forward to the success and the outcomes of this Conference.
I wish you fruitful deliberations during this Conference.

I declare this International Conference on “Living with World Heritage in Africa” officially opened.

Thank you.