World Heritage Sites in South Africa
Heritage is often defined as our legacy from the past, what we live with in the present, and what we pass on to future generations to learn from, to marvel at and to enjoy. It can help us become more aware of our own roots, and of our cultural and social identity. Heritage sites can help us learn the beliefs, values and knowledge of the peoples and the civilizations that created them (cultural heritage) or interacted with them (natural and mixed sites, and cultural landscapes). This includes opportunities to learn about tangible and intangible heritage.
South Africa ratified the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Natural and Cultural Heritage (commonly known as the World Heritage Convention) in 1997. Recognizing that the country has, amongst others, the responsibility to take appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures to protect heritage of outstanding universal value, in 1999 the country promulgated the World Heritage Convention Act,1999 (No 49 of 1999) to convert the World Heritage Convention into national law.
Our involvement in all these sites is that before they are inscribed as World Heritage sites, they have to be declared as National Heritage sites through the South African Heritage Resources Agency.
Since 1999 South Africa had successfully managed to ensure that the World Heritage community recognizes the outstanding universal values of nine properties within its territory. Of all these sites 5 are cultural, 3 Natural and 1 mixed site. The nine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List are, in order of inscription:
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park (1999),
- Robben Island (1999),
- Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (1999) (i.e. Cradle of Humankind, Taung Skull Fossil Site and Makapan Valley),
- uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (2000),
- Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (2003),
- Cape Flora Region Protected Areas (2004),
- Vredefort Dome (2005), and
- the Richtersveld Cultural Landscape (2007).
- ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape (2017)
Given the diversity and abundance of both natural and cultural heritage with potential outstanding universal values that the country is blessed with, the number of World Heritage sites is surely going to increase and therefore further increase the number of managing authorities.
1. iSimangaliso Wetland Park (KwaZulu-Natal)
The World Heritage Site inscribed as such by the World Heritage Committee in 1999 with the size of 234 000 ha protects coastal, wetland and marine ecosystems with extremely high diversity of habitats and species. Key features include unique sand forests, huge numbers of waterbirds, a total of 521 bird species, large numbers of nesting sea turtles, migrating whales, dolphins and whale-sharks off-shore, and the southernmost coral reefs of the continent.
2. Robben Island Museum World Heritage Site (Western Cape)
Once viewed as a symbol of oppression and hardship, Robben Island has been transformed by recent history into a symbol of peace, hope and reconciliation that has resulted in being inscribed on the World Heritage List.
3. The Fossil Hominid sites of South Africa (comprising of Cradle of Humankind, Taung Skull Fossil Site and Makapan Valley)
The Fossil Hominid sites of South Africa (comprising of the Cradle of Humankind, Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site) contributes more than half of the total number of australopithecine fossils in the world. Although there are other localities with hominid fossils that cover a similar time span in Tanzania and Kenya, the South African sites are the only fossil occurrences that confirm the presence of early hominids outside of the tropics.
Maropeng is the official visitor centre for The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Maropeng is a Setswana word meaning “returning to the place of origin”. The Visitor Centre is an exciting, world-class exhibition, focusing on the development of humans and our ancestors over the past few million years. As Maropeng is part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, the department responsible for World Heritage issues in the country is the department of Water and Environmental Affairs. However, my department is involved in the area through our entity named the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). Maropeng was developed 10km away from the Sterkfontein Caves in order to limit the environmental pressure on the actual sites. Any excavations that have to take place in the area of Maropeng, permission has got to be sought from SAHRA.
4. uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (KwaZulu-Natal)
uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park conserves the rugged beauty of the Drakensberg Escarpment and its high underlying golden sandstones, its high biodiversity and number of threatened species, especially birds and plants, and the many caves and rock-shelters that contain the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara, that were made by the San people over a period of 4,000 years.
5. Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape and National Park (Limpopo Province)
The site of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was the centre of a powerful indigenous kingdom in Southern Africa that existed between AD 900 and 1300. In recognition of the cultural significance of this property, the decision to approve in principle the declaration of Mapungubwe as a National Heritage Site was taken by the South African Heritage Resources Agency in 2001.
6. Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site (Western Cape and Eastern Cape)
The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas was inscribed on the World Heritage List in June 2004 in recognition of the area as one of the richest areas for plants in the world, and is one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hotspots. It represents ongoing biological processes that led to the evolution of the unique Fynbos biome.
7. Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site (Free State and North West)
The Vredefort Dome, situated some 120km south-west of Johannesburg, is the oldest and largest meteorite impact structure (astrobleme) in the world. The two billion year old crater, with a radius of 190km, marks the biggest single energy release event in known history. Scientifically, the Vredefort Dome provides a record of our geological history, and is vital to mankind’s understanding of the planet’s evolution. Vredefort Dome is the only site on earth that provides a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor, enabling research into the genesis and development of the astrobleme immediately after the impact.
8. Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape World Heritage Site is a testimony to land management processes which have ensured the protection of the succulent Karoo vegetation and thus demonstrates a harmonious interaction between people and nature. Furthermore, the seasonal migrations of graziers between stockposts with traditional demountable mat-roofed houses, |haru oms, reflect a practice that was once much more widespread over Southern Africa, and which has persisted for at least two millennia; the Nama are now its last practitioners.
9. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape
The ǂKhomani Cultural landscape is located at the border with Botswana an Namibia in the northern part of the country, coinciding with the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP). The large expanse of the sand contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present and is associated with the culture of the formerly nomadic ǂKhomani San people and the strategies that allowed them to adapt to harsh desert conditions. They developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a world view related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.
Visit UNESCO website for more information