Three African sites gain World Her­itage sta­tus

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South Africa, An­gola and Eritrea all have her­itage sites added to UNESCO’s list of World Her­itage Sites

The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UNESCO) re­cently an­nounced the ad­di­tion of three sites in Africa to its list of World Her­itage Sites.

South Africa gained its ninth list­ing, while An­gola and Eritrea made it onto the list for the first time.

UNESCO an­nounced that the new in­scrip­tions bring to 1 073 the to­tal num­ber of sites on the World Her­itage List.

An­gola’s Mbanza Kongo, Ves­tiges of the Cap­i­tal of the for­mer King­dom of Kongo, was des­ig­nated as a new cul­tural site, as were Eritrea's As­mara: a Mod­ernist City of Africa, and South Africa's ǂKhomani Cul­tural Land­scape.

An­gola's Mbanza Kongo

UNESCO de­scribes Mbanza Kongo as the po­lit­i­cal and spir­i­tual cap­i­tal of the King­dom of Kongo in Western Africa. It is re­ported to have been founded in about 1390. By the mid-1600s the king­dom was at its peak. UNESCO notes that the his­tor­i­cal area cen­tres on the royal res­i­dence, cus­tom­ary court, holy tree and royal fu­neral places.

When Por­tuguese set­tlers ar­rived in the 1400s they added Euro­pean-style stone build­ings. UNESCO re­ports that the site “il­lus­trates, more than any­where in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, the pro­found changes caused by the in­tro­duc­tion of Chris­tian­ity and the ar­rival of the Por­tuguese”.

Eritrea's As­mara

As­mara is the cap­i­tal of Eritrea, which is lo­cated in the Horn of Africa. Writ­ing for Smith­so­ Brigit Katz re­ports that the city is en­dowed with Art Deco build­ings and 19th and 20th Cen­tury architecture thanks to its Ital­ian colonis­ers.The city's re­mark­able build­ings in­clude the gov­er­nor's palace from the 19th cen­tury, a build­ing de­signed in the shape of an old radio set, an Art Deco bowl­ing al­ley and aero­plane-shaped fuel sta­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The Guardian by Oliver Wain­wright, As­mara is the first mod­ernist city in the world to be listed in its en­tirety.

South Africa's ǂKhomani Cul­tural Land­scape

The an­nounce­ment of South Africa's ninth World Her­itage Site un­der­scores its renown for its nat­u­ral beauty, cul­tural di­ver­sity, his­tory of strug­gle and tri­umph of the hu­man spirit.

An­nounc­ing the ǂKhomani Cul­tural Land­scape's UNESCO sta­tus to the me­dia, the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs (DEA) said that it am­pli­fies the ‡Khomani San's unique cul­tural her­itage.

The DEA said that the ‡Khomani and re­lated San peo­ple are de­scended di­rectly from an an­cient pop­u­la­tion that lived in south­ern Africa 150 000 years ago.

“The red dunes of the ‡Khomani Cul­tural Land­scape are strongly as­so­ci­ated with this unique cul­ture, stretch­ing from the Stone Age to the present, thus mak­ing it a land­scape that has changed lit­tle from long ago when hu­mans were mainly hunter gath­er­ers.

“The ǂKhomani Cul­tural Land­scape has been home to at most a few hun­dred peo­ple who have sur­vived life in the ex­treme desert land­scape of the south­ern Kala­hari through their knowl­edge of the land. Par­tic­u­lar to their prac­tices is their ways of phys­i­cally defin­ing the land through des­ig­nated uses of the dif­fer­ent parts; how their move­ments were or­gan­ised as well as other sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural prac­tices,” said the DEA.

“Coun­tries that gain UNESCO World Her­itage sta­tus un­der­take to con­serve such sites and pro­tect their cul­tural and nat­u­ral her­itage. ”

World Her­itage Site cat­e­gories

World Her­itage Sites are placed in one of three cat­e­gories: cul­tural, nat­u­ral or mixed. They are re­garded as im­por­tant not just to the coun­tries in which they are found but to all peo­ple – they are world trea­sures to be con­served.

Glob­ally there are 832 cul­tural, 206 nat­u­ral and 35 mixed sites. Re­gret­tably, 54 sites are re­garded as be­ing in dan­ger. They in­clude the fa­mous Tim­buktu in Mali, the Tombs of the Bu­ganda Kings at Ka­subi in Uganda, and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo's Okapi Wildlife Re­serve in the Congo river basin, which is one of the largest drainage sys­tems in Africa.The re­serve con­tains threat­ened species of pri­mates and birds and about 5 000 of the es­ti­mated 30 000 okapi sur­viv­ing in the wild.

The Fos­sil Ho­minid Sites of South Africa, Robben Is­land (both in the cul­tural cat­e­gory) and iSi­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park (nat­u­ral) were the first UNESCO World Her­itage Site list­ings for South Africa. All three were listed in 1999.

Next to be listed was the Maloti-Drak­ens­berg Park in 2000 (mixed), the Ma­pun­gubwe Cul­tural Land­scape in 2003 (cul­tural), the Cape Flo­ral Re­gion Pro­tected Ar­eas in 2004 (nat­u­ral), the Vre­de­fort Dome in 2005 (nat­u­ral), and the Richtersveld Cul­tural and Botan­i­cal Land­scape in 2007 (cul­tural). It took 10 years before South Africa would achieve another list­ing - the ǂKhomani Cul­tural Land­scape.

Coun­tries that gain UNESCO World Her­itage sta­tus un­der­take to con­serve such sites and pro­tect their cul­tural and nat­u­ral her­itage. A UNESCO list­ing also draws pub­lic at­ten­tion to a her­itage site, thus rais­ing in­ter­est among tourists and aware­ness of the im­por­tance of preser­va­tion. Ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, listed sites “are a mag­net for in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and may thus re­ceive fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for her­itage con­ser­va­tion projects from a va­ri­ety of sources”.

South African world her­itage trea­sures

The Fos­sil Ho­minid Sites in­clude the Taung Skull Fos­sil Site 300 km west of Jo­han­nes­burg, Sterk­fontein,

Swartkrans, Krom­draai and en­vi­rons.The Taung Skull is a spec­i­men of Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus africanus that was found in 1924.The Maropeng Cra­dle of Hu­mankind vis­i­tor cen­tre lists 15 fos­sil sites, which in­clude Maka­pans Val­ley near Mokopane in Lim­popo where there are an­i­mal and ho­minid fos­sils as old as three mil­lion years.

The iSi­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park is in KwaZulu-Na­tal along a 220 km stretch of the coast. It is de­scribed by UNESCO as an out­stand­ing nat­u­ral wet­land and coastal site that in­cludes a wide range of pris­tine ma­rine, coast­land, wet­land, es­tu­ar­ine, and ter­res­trial en­vi­ron­ments.

Robben Is­land's che­quered his­tory in­cludes it be­ing used as a leper colony, mil­i­tary base and prison. It is also where for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela was im­pris­oned.

The Maloti-Drak­ens­berg Park strad­dles the uKhahlamba Drak­ens­berg Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe Park in Le­sotho.The site fea­tures caves with the largest and most con­cen­trated col­lec­tion of rock paint­ings in Africa, south of the Sa­hara, ac­cord­ing to UNESCO. It also pro­vides a refuge for en­dan­gered bird and fish species. Ac­cord­ing to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the area is the most im­por­tant wa­ter catch­ment area for Le­sotho and South Africa with its high-al­ti­tude wet­land sys­tems pu­ri­fy­ing the wa­ter supplied to the peo­ple of both coun­tries.

The Ma­pun­gubwe Cul­tural Land­scape in Lim­popo was the largest king­dom in the sub-con­ti­nent before be­ing aban­doned in the 1300s. One of the great­est trea­sures found at this site is the 800-year-old golden rhino of Ma­pun­gubwe found in the 1930s, writes Mark Brown in The Guardian. Vis­i­tors to Ma­pun­gubwe Na­tional Park can go on a mu­seum tour, her­itage tours, game drives, guided walks and a tree­top walk among river­ine for­est.

One of the world's most sig­nif­i­cant and largest sites of bio­di­ver­sity is the Cape Flo­ral Re­gion Pro­tected Ar­eas that lie in the south-western part of South Africa. Fyn­bos is unique to this area.

Vis­i­ble from an air­craft is the Vre­de­fort Dome, which is the eroded re­mains of a me­teor im­pact site about 120k m south-west of Jo­han­nes­burg. A me­teor struck the site 2 023 mil­lion years ago.

The Richtersveld Cul­tural and Botan­i­cal Land­scape is a 160 000 hectare desert in Na­maqua­land in the north­west­ern part of South Africa.The De­part­ment of Arts and Cul­ture (DAC) de­scribes it as “a prime ex­am­ple of the most in­ter­est­ing megae­costem in the world”.

It is an arid area where it can get as hot as 50 ⁰C by day but so cold by night that heavy dew forms. Ac­cord­ing to the DAC “the early morn­ing fog is so thick that the lo­cals call it ‘Ihuries', or ‘Malmokkie' and it makes sur­vival pos­si­ble for a range of small rep­tiles, birds and mam­mals in­clud­ing grey rhe­bok, duiker, steen­bok, klip­springer, kudu, Hart­man's moun­tain ze­bra, ba­boon, vel­vet mon­key, cara­cal and leop­ard.”

Robben Is­land

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