Three African sites gain World Heritage status
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”.
Asmara is the capital of Eritrea, which is located in the Horn of Africa. Writing for Smithsonian.com 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.”