It’s Heritage Day or, as most South Africans call it, Braai Day. It is a public holiday which traditionally involves braaivleis, ice-cold beer, friends, and family. But why exactly do we commemorate this day?
According to the Department of Arts and Culture, “Heritage Day recognises and celebrates the cultural wealth of our nation. South Africans celebrate the day by remembering the cultural heritage of the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa.”
The department goes on to explain the importance of Living Heritage which “is the foundation of all communities and an essential source of identity and continuity.
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Aspects of living heritage include cultural tradition, oral history, performance, ritual, popular memory, skills and techniques, indigenous knowledge system and the holistic approach to nature, society and social relationships.”
Living heritage plays an important role in promoting cultural diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace, and economic development.
Another immensely important aspect of our heritage as South Africans are the amazing landscapes and biodiversity we have been blessed with.
South Africa has 10 officially designated World Heritage Sites, five of these are cultural, four natural and one mixed site, having both cultural and natural significance.
These sites are designated by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
South Africa has four Natural World Heritage Sites and one mixed Heritage Site. These are the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Vredefort Dome and the Maloti-Drakensberg Park which encompasses both natural and cultural heritage.
The below are extracts from the Unesco World Heritage Site Platform describing our stunning natural heritage sites.
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains
The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains contain an outstanding record of some of the oldest, most diverse, and best-preserved volcanic and sedimentary rocks on the early Earth.
These outcrops have been intensively studied for more than a century and provide key insights into early Earth processes including the formation of continents, surface conditions 3.5 to 3.2 billion years ago, and the environment in which life first appeared on our planet.
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004, the property is located at the southwestern extremity of South Africa. It is one of the world’s great centres of terrestrial biodiversity.
The extended property includes national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas, State forests and mountain catchment areas.
These elements add a significant number of endemic species associated with the Fynbos vegetation, a fine-leaved sclerophyllic shrubland adapted to both a Mediterranean climate and periodic fires, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
The ongoing fluvial, marine and aeolian processes in the site have produced a variety of landforms, including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands.
The interplay of the park's environmental heterogeneity with major floods and coastal storms and a transitional geographic location between subtropical and tropical Africa has resulted in exceptional species diversity and ongoing speciation.
The mosaic of landforms and habitat types creates breathtaking scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitats for a range of species from Africa's marine, wetland, and savannah environments.
Vredefort Dome, approximately 120 km southwest of Johannesburg, 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. With a radius of 190 km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded.
Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which had devastating global effects including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes.
It provides critical evidence of the Earth’s geological history and is crucial to the 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 a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a transnational property composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho.
The site has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools.
The site's diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally important plants. The site harbours endangered species such as the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park also harbours the Maloti minnow (Pseudobarbus quathlambae), a critically endangered fish species only found in this park. This spectacular natural site contains many caves and rock shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. They represent the spiritual life of the San people, who lived in this area over a period of 4 000 years.