World Heritage Sites of South Africa

South Africa hosts 4 of the World Heritage Sites of the world and this is not surprising given the spectacular and diverse culture, nature and wildlife that South Africa offers its tourists. South Africa and its World Heritage Sites are now playing a major role in preserving the regions and through tourism uplifting the local communities.  

There are four World Heritage Sites in South Africa:

The World Heritage Status is granted on the following conditions by UNESCO.

The criteria for selection for World heritage status is not easy. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must satisfy the following selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working document on World Heritage. The criteria have been revised regularly by the Committee to match the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.

Cultural properties for World Heritage Sites should:

  1. represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; or
  2. exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; or
  3. bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or has disappeared; or
  4. St Lucia Wetlands Park - World Heritage Site - South Africa be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble, or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history; or
  5. be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change; or
  6. be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance (a criterion applied only in exceptional circumstances, and together with other criteria).

Equally important is the authenticity of the heritage site and the way it is protected and managed.

Natural properties for World Heritage Sites should:

  1. be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of land forms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features; or
  2. be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; or
  3. contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; or
  4. contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The protection, management and integrity of the world heritage site are also important considerations.

Mixed heritage sites have both outstanding natural and cultural values. Since 1992 significant interactions between people and the natural environment have been recognised as cultural landscapes.

The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park of South Africa

St Lucia Wetlands Park - World Heritage Site - South AfricaThe Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park was declared South Africa's first Natural World Heritage Site on 1 December 1999. It is considered South Africa's third largest park and extends from Mapelane (Cape St. Lucia) in the South to Kozi Bay in the North. The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park thus incorporates the entire Lake St Lucia, the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, the Coastal Forest Reserve, and Kosi Bay Nature Reserve. The park has 280km of near pristine coastline and comprises of 328 000 ha of exquisite scenery and encompasses a vast mosaic of habitats ranging from marine systems such as coral reefs and beaches, and coastal forests; from salt and fresh water marshes to the open estuarine waters of Lake St Lucia itself; from lush coastal plains to the drier woodland areas. A truly magnificent piece of Africa!

The park is situated in the southern end of the Mozambique coastal plain near the towns of St Lucia, Mtubatuba, Hluhluwe, Mkuze, Mbaswana and Manguzi. The protected area is home to the largest and southernmost population of hippos and approximately 1,000 crocodiles, as well as a wealth of plant and animal life.

The Park is already a fast-growing premier tourism destination and offers a wide range of tourist activities that range from fishing, boating and birdwatching, to scuba-diving, hiking and camping as well as offering outstanding photographic opportunities to the amateur and professional alike. Veiwing wildlife from the elevated back of a horse is a wonderful experience, the game see you as part of the horse and don't frighten easily, allowing you to get very close to them. Bhangazi Horse Safaris has the concession to run the horse trails within the park. Having participated in a recent trail, we would recommend it to anyone that enjoys a good ride in the wilderness!

Robben Island

Robben Island - World Heritage Site - South AfricaFor nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here that rulers sent those they regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society.

During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran the Island and its prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for their beliefs.

Those imprisoned on the Island succeeded on a psychological and political level in turning a prison 'hell-hole' into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation. Robben Island came to symbolise, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also for the entire world, the triumph of the human spirit over enormous hardship and adversity

Guide to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park of South Africa

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park - World Heritage Site - South AfricaCovering an area of 240,000ha the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is dominated by sheer cliffs, deeply incised valleys and crystal clear rivers. The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is an obvious destination choice of any experienced Eco Traveller and forms an integral focal point of this unique area and especially so since its declaration as a World Heritage Site (Both Natural and Historical). The many rivers, wetlands, indigenous forests and the rolling grasslands are home to a diverse range of animals and plants, including many endemic and endangered species. The Cranes and the Blue Swallow are all critically endangered and fortunately viable populations do still exist in this area of South Africa.

KZN Wildlife (Natal Parks Board) are the custodians of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park and many of the smaller reserves that dot the landscape. Other than relaxation, hiking and walking are the primary activities in these reserves and there are literally hundreds of options from gentle walks to epic hikes that would test even the most seasoned of hikers endurance! Other activities include one of my favourites, birding; and horse riding, fishing, swimming, cycling and canoeing.

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is one of the richest rock painting areas in the world. Many enthusiasts and experts have searched for paintings in the park over the last 40 years. During this time 30 000 individually painted images in 520 different rock shelters have been recorded.

The Craddle of Humankind World Heritage Site - South Africa

The Sterkfontein Valley landscape in Western Gauteng and North West province (South Africa), The Cradle of Humankind, comprises a band of important palaeo-anthropological sites including Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, Coopers B, Wonder Cave, Drimolen, Gladysvale, Gondolin, Plover's Lake, Haasgat, Bolt's Farm and Minnaars Caves. The Cradle of Humankind has produced the remains of hominids (i.e. human and pre-human) from over 2 to 3,3 million years ago, the early stone-age, the middle stone age, the later stone age, the early and late iron age and up to the present day. They have produced thousands of fossils and it is estimated that there may be up to 25 more sites in the area worth excavating.

The Gauteng Provincial government has nominated The Cradle of Humankind for inclusion in the World Heritage List. The area meets the criteria for inclusion in the World Heritage List of cultural properties in that it represents the combined works of nature and man. It is of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, archaeology and anthropology. It contains exceptional testimony to significant stages in human prehistory and to the development of cultural traditions. Click here to read more about the groundwork that was done for the nomination of the Cradle of Humankind

Excavators have found the fossilised remains of hominids, their lithicultural remains (from about 2 milLion years onwards), and the fossils of other animals, plants and pollen. More than 500 hominid fossils, thousands of animal fossils, over 300 fragments of fossil wood, and over 9 000 stone tools - some of them the oldest in Southern Africa - have been found in the twelve explored sites within the Cradle of Humankind and more are still being discovered.

The excavations, which have continued for 62 years (intermittently), have left a large proportion of the deposits in the caves untouched and in situ as a temolin or witness for posterity, for the later application of new techniques of dating and analysis, and as part of the record of our heritage.

The Sterkfontein Valley area, The Cradle of Humankind, is comparable to a number of existing World Heritage Sites. These include:

The Sangiran Early Man Site in Java, Indonesia
The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian, People's Republic of China
Australian Fossil Mammal Sites: Riversleigh/Narcoote
The Lower Valley of the Awash, Ethiopia
The Lower Valley of the Omo, Ethiopia

From the point of view of the richness and variety of the deposits, the preservation of the specimens due to their location in caves, and the age of the specimens, the area must be seen as worthy of becoming one of the list of world sites which have palaeontological and palaeo-anthropological significance.

Picture courtesy of University of the Witwatersrand and Transvaal Museum - Northern Flagship Institution.

The Sterkfontein Caves are located within the Isaac Edwin Stegmann Reserve about 10km from Krugersdorp. These caves were donated to the University of Witwatersrand by the Stegmann family. A section of the caves is open to the public, and there is a gravel platform from which the public can view the excavation site. Other facilities include a tea-room and small museum in which information about significant findings are on display.
The Sterkfontein Caves were opened in the late 1890s by lime prospectors. Early explorers of the caves noted the presence of fossilised bone, but it was only in 1936, after students of Prof. Raymond Dart interested Dr Robert Broom in visiting the caves, that systematic work on the fossils began.

Right from the start the caves proved rich in hominids. In 1936 the Sterkfontein caves produced the first adult australopithecine, which substantially strengthened Raymond Dart's claim that the Taung child (Australopithecus africanus ) was a human ancestor. The Second World War unfortunately interrupted Broom's activities at Sterkfontein, but he resumed work with John Robinson in 1946. In 1947 he found the almost complete skull of an adult female Australopithecus africanus. Broom initially named the skull Plesianthropus transvaalensis ("near-man" of the Transvaal), which inspired the nickname 'Mrs Ples'.

'Mrs Ples' is estimated to be between 2.8 - 2.6 milLion years old and ranks high on the long list of australopithecine discoveries for which Sterkfontein is now famous.

The world's longest sustained excavation ever carried out at an ancient hominid sites was started in 1966 and continues today. Professor Philip Tobias (1966- to date), Mr Alun Hughes (1966-1991) and Dr Ron Clarke (1991-to date) have contributed to the recovery of a further 500 hominid specimens making

Sterkfontein is the richest site in the world for fossils of Australopithecus, a lineage of hominid which appeared over 4 milLion years ago

For tours and information about the World Heritage Sites in South Africa Contact Merle at Amakhulu Central Reservations for more information


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