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SA gets ninth World Heritage site

Written by Edwin Tshivhidzo
South Africa’s most recent World Heritage site bears testimony to an unchanging way of life that dates back thousands of years – and is a heritage that should be treasured and preserved.

A traditional way of life in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. (Photo: Kevin Moore of SANParks)A ninth South African World Heritage site – the ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape – has been added to the United Nation’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco)prestigious list of sites.

Now recognised by Unesco as a site of universal value, the area covers the entire Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and is part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park bordering Botswana and Namibia.

The ‡Khomani and related San people are the direct descendants of an ancient group of people who inhabited southern Africa about 150 000 years ago.

“This exciting announcement brings with it prospects of development for South Africa and our neighbours, but it has global significance that extends far beyond our region,” said Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa.

The recognition will focus world attention on this iconic site and its role in the development of modern humans. “It’s where humans came from,” Minister Xasa said.

The vast, sandy region holds archaeological evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. The nomadic people adapted to the harsh desert conditions, developing specific survival strategies. According to Unesco, “They developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview related to the geographical features of their environment.

“The ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.”

The landscape has remained relatively unchanged since humans were hunter-gatherers, and is managed by South African National Parks.

A heritage to share with Africa

The ‡Khomani San Cultural Landscape holds archaeological evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. (Photo: Kevin Moore of SANParks)While Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa and her department were the official custodians of the site, “this achievement belongs to all the people of South Africa”, Minister Xasa said.

“This is the heritage that our entire nation should treasure and preserve.”

Any development would take into account the need to protect and preserve this unique environment, the cultural practices of the local people, and all the heritage aspects of this amazing cultural landscape, the Minister added.

“We must work together to convert these assets into economic and social benefits, without negatively impacting on the environment, the culture and the dignity of people past and present.”

The Minister applauded local communities for their efforts to preserve their culture.

She added that this acknowledgement of the universal significance of the site would formalise and consolidate the continued preservation of ancient cultural practices and traditions.

The benefits of tourism development in the region would make a big difference in the lives of the local communities, the Minister added.

It also opened up possibilities for integrated tourism development in southern Africa, particularly in partnership with Namibia and Botswana.

The interest in this site was likely to spread further north through the African continent.

“We are always willing to work with our African counterparts to link and co-develop cultural and heritage products for the benefit of regional tourism, which makes a significant contribution to many economies on the continent,” Minister Xasa said.

Other African Unescosites

The Minister also congratulated Angola and Eritrea for the sites in their countries that have won Unesco recognition. “These announcements once again demonstrate the unique cultural and heritage tourism assets we have in Africa.”

Unesco has added the City of Asmara in Eritrea and the town of Mbanza Kongo in Angola to the list of World Heritage sites.

Mbanza Kongo was the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, one of the largest states in southern Africa between the 14th and 19thcenturies.

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, developed from the 1890s to become “an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century”, according to Unesco.

South Africa’s World Heritage sites
The other eight world heritage sites in South Africa are:

  • the fossil hominid sites of South Africa;
  • Maloti-Drakensberg Park;
  • Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape;
  • Vredefort Dome;
  • Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape;
  • Robben Island Museum;
  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park; and
  • the Cape floral region protected areas.