World Heritage Sites in South Africa
Eight sites in South Africa have been declared World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). They are:
- The Cape Floral Region
- Robben Island
- The Greater St Lucia Wetland
- uKhahlamba - Drakensberg
- The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
- The "Cradle of Humankind" (Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs)
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landschape
- Vredefort Dome
- Table Mountain
- De Hoop Nature Reserve
- the Boland mountain complex
- the Groot Winterhoek wilderness area
- the Swartberg mountains
- Boosmansbos wilderness area
- the Cederberg wilderness area
In total, the site covers 553,000 hectares of land that are particularly rich in plant species, representing nearly 20% of Africa's flora.
The unique flora of the region is of particular value to science as there is a huge diversity and density of Fynbos species within a relatively small area. The species density in the Cape Floral Region is also amongst the highest in the world and it has been identified as one of the world's 18 biodiversity hot spots.
The historical significance of Robben Island led to its recognition as a World heritage site in 1999. Robben Island has been used over the last five centuries as a prison, a hospital and a military base. Many of its buildings reflect its history as a maximum-security prison and so symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.
The St Lucia Wetlands contain a variety of landforms, including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands. The geographic diversity of the wetlands and their interaction with climatic elements has resulted in exceptional species diversity. The mosaic of landforms and habitat types also create breathtaking scenic vistas.
The St. Lucia site consists of thirteen protected areas with a total size of 234,566 hectares. The site is the largest estuarine system in Africa and includes the southernmost extension of coral reefs on the continent. Some of the natural phenomena of the wetlands are: the large numbers of nesting turtles on the beaches, the migration of whales, dolphins and whale-sharks off-shore and enormous numbers of waterfowl. The Park also has exceptional biodiversity including some 521 bird species.
The magnificent geographic features of the Drakensberg and the large concentration of rock paintings in this area, have led to the uKhahlamba - Drakensberg Park's recognition as a World Heritage Site.
The site is exceptional beautiful, with soaring basaltic buttresses, dramatic cutbacks, golden sandstone ramparts, rolling high altitude grasslands, pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges. This diversity of habitats protects a high level of indigenous and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants.
There are also many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa, south of the Sahara. These paintings were made by the San people over a period of 4,000 years. The rock paintings are outstanding in quality and diversity of subject and in their depiction of animals and human beings. They represent the spiritual life of the San people who no longer live in this region.
An area situated on the northern border of South Africa, joining Zimbabwe and Botswana, Mapungubwe was the largest kingdom on the sub-continent, before it was abandoned in the 14th century. The surviving palace sites and settlement area, as well as two earlier capital sites, present an unrivalled picture of the development of social and political structures over some 400 years.
The Mapungubwe cultural landscape contains evidence for an important interchange of human values that led to far-reaching cultural and social changes in Southern Africa between 900 and 1300 AD. The remains are a remarkably complete testimony to the growth and subsequent decline of the Mapungubwe state. The remains graphically illustrate the impact of climate change and record the growth and decline of the kingdom of Mapungubwe.
The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and surrounding areas have produced abundant scientific information on the evolution of the human being over the past 3.5 million years, his way of life and the animals with which he lived and on which he fed. The landscape also preserves many features of that prehistoric period.
The Sterkfontein area contains an exceptionally large and scientifically significant group of sites which throw light on the earliest ancestors of humankind. They constitute a vast reserve of scientific information, the potential of which is enormous.
The 160,000 ha Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape of dramatic mountainous desert in north-western South Africa constitutes a cultural landscape communally owned and managed. This site sustains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people, reflecting seasonal patterns that may have persisted for as much as two millennia in southern Africa. It is the only area where the Name still construct portable rush-mat houses (haru om) and includes seasonal migration and grazing grounds, together with stock post. The pastoralist collects medicinal and other plans and have a strong oral tradition associated with different places and attributes of the landscape.
The Vredefort Dome is approximately 120 km south-west of Johannesburg. It is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure or astrobleme dating back 2,023 million years. It is the oldest astrobleme yet found on Earth and it has a 190 km radius, making it the largest and most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world's greatest known single energy release event, which has devastating global effect including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes. It provides critical evidence of the Earth's geological history and is crucial to understanding of the evolution of the planet. Despite the importance of impact sites to the planet's history, geological activity on the Earth's surface has led to the disappearance of evidence from most of them, and Vredefort is the only example to provide the full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor.