Meet SA's top10 endangered heritage sites

Johannesburg - South Africa's top 10 endangered heritage sites include a diverse range of places sprinkled all over the country, stretching from the tip of the continent to the mining towns of Mpumalanga.

In celebration of Heritage Month, the Heritage Monitoring (HMP) Project called the public to nominate heritage sites around the country they felt were most endangered. The short-list named 46 sites altogether, and this was scrutinised by a panel of experts who looked into the importance of the site to local communities, and the extent to which the site can be conserved.

South Africa's top 10 endangered heritage sites include a diverse range of places sprinkled all over the country. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

The final 10, published on Wednesday, are:

"The Heritage Monitoring Project hopes that the campaign will bring awareness of the sites and the work of the local champions," said Jacques Stoltz, co-founder of the HMP.

"Legally speaking, the age and heritage status of the site determines who the responsible heritage authority is, who should in theory take action to safeguard the sites. We tried to highlight those sites where there are already local initiatives in place that need the support of the community, local businesses or benefactors."

In June, the HMP made the call for local champions of these sites to submit their applications. A broad spectrum of submissions were received - from BaTswana Iron Age ruins to sites of military conflict, ancestral lands, historic townscapes and buildings, to Struggle sites and archaeological and palaeontological sites of international significance.

Many of the places have been subject to neglect, but the HMP committee believes that with some assistance, local communities can benefit from a tourism aspect.

A case in point is Westfort Village in Tshwane. It is the remains of the Westfort Leprosy Hospital, established in 1897, with the last construction phase carried out in 1947. It became particularly significant when the leprosy hospital on Robben Island was shut down.

"The new community that has made this site its home can become the new custodians of the site if granted title and given the proper guidance. This community, if supported, could be enough of a public to guarantee the survival of the site," said the committee on deliberation.

The sites share common threats, such as a lack of maintenance, lack of funding or other resources, mining, development pressure, lack of development and investment, gentrification or, simply, official neglect.

According to Stoltz, the study raises uncomfortable questions about the government's commitment to upholding heritage legislation and also equally worrying concerns about state asset management.

"Development poses a serious risk to a traditional way of living, and if a balance is not struck between heritage and development, the former will be a loser as it is a non-renewable resource," Stoltz said of the amaPondo villages, which are endangered due to the development of a proposed freeway.

Len Raymond, chairperson of the Heritage Association of South Africa, one of the project partners, said the undertaking spoke to the valuable role that heritage resources play in local tourism and the knock-on effect they have on these economies when lost.

The submissions show how important it is to have local custodians who don't just complain, but pro-actively work towards achieving better outcomes, not just for heritage sites but for the community in general.

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