SA Welcomes Another World Heritage Site
ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Committee recently added South Africa’s ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape in the Northern Cape to the country’s list of World Heritage Sites, during its 41st session in Krakow, Poland, in July. The committee also inscribed two other sites from Africa – one in Eritrea and another in Angola.
“The decision that was taken marks a long-awaited historical moment for us, the ǂKhomani San, and all other San/Bushman communities,” said Dirk Pienaar, a ǂKhomani community member, who addressed the session.
He said it was an acknowledgement of universal value and importance. “This listing will thus provide a foundation for us to continue to preserve, protect and practise our ancient culture and traditions with minimum threat of extinction within the current society.”
The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located on South Africa’s border with Botswana and Namibia in the northern part of the country. It falls within the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and covers an area of 959,100 ha, according to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
“The ǂKhomani and related San people are unique in that they descend directly from an ancient population that existed in Southern Africa some 150,000 years ago,” said a spokesperson from the DEA. “[They are] the ancestors of the entire human race.”
This area with its red dunes has changed minimally since the Stone Age, and the
ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape has been home to people who learned to survive in the extreme desert because of their knowledge of the land.
During the session, Unesco expounded on why the site was considered worthy of World Heritage status: “The ǂKhomani San developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview 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.”
MUCH NEEDED RECOGNITION
In her acceptance speech, the directorgeneral of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Nosipho Ngcaba, said South Africa is committed to supporting efforts of economic development in the area, contributing to job creation, enhancing tourism experiences, and contributing to skills development.
Pienaar said that the community would continue to respect their culture and pass it on to future generations. “Conservation for us is not a planned action or a buzzword to use to impress when needed,” he said. “It is not a choice but a way of life that is instilled within all San people from a very tender age.”
He also gave thanks to the elder community members, including “Oupa Dawid Kruiper and Ouma Una Rooi, who died sadly whilst fighting for our cause”.
South Africa’s other eight World Heritage Sites are: the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, Maloti-Drakensberg Park (transboundary with Lesotho), the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, the Vredefort Dome, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, Robben Island Museum, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas.
OTHER AFRICAN NEWCOMERS Angola’s Mbanza Kongo and Eritrea’s Asmara were the other African sites inscribed as World Heritage Sites in July.
Mbanza Kongo was the political and spiritual capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, one of the largest states in Southern Africa from the 14th century to the 19th century. When the Portuguese arrived, stone buildings were added. According to Unesco: “Mbanza Kongo illustrates, more than anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Portuguese into Central Africa.”
Asmara, 2,000 m above sea level and the capital of Eritrea, became a military outpost for Italy, its colonial power. After 1935, the city went through a massive construction project. “It is an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context,” Unesco noted.