World Heritage Sites, as defined by UNESCO, are sites throughout the world that are seen as being places of exceptional beauty or historic interest and that link us, the peoples of the world, with our past. They are sites that display our cultural and natural heritage and are considered as irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. World Heritage Sites are as diverse as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Yosemite National Park and the Acropolis. Southern Africa is the home of several World Heritage Sites including the Victoria Falls and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. Proclaimed South African sites are:
The Cradle of Humankind is the name commonly given to one of several hominid fossil sites in South Africa. These sites
include Taung, Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai. It was at the Taung Heritage Site that, in 1924, Professor
Raymond Dart discovered a child’s skull dating back some two million years. This discovery was to be one of the most
important archaeological finds of modern times, and believed to be the missing link between man and the apes..
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park is a World Heritage Site of some 240,000 hectares situated in the northern coastal
region of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Within the parks boundaries lies a 38,000-hectare lake where the visitor
may see Nile crocodiles and hippo. Four of the Big Five may be found in the park, which includes a wide variety of
habitats including mountains, forest, wetlands, mangroves and dune vegetation. The park is world famous for its birdlife,
which include thousands of waterbirds of many species.
Robben Island has been used since the 17 th Century at various times as a prison, a hospital and a military base. It is
perhaps best known as the South African prison where so many of the opponents of apartheid were incarcerated. Their
imprisonment only served to draw the attention of the rest of the world to their fate, and Robben Island became a symbol
their eventual triumph over adversity. Robben Island is now open to the public. It is situated some twelve kilometres from
Cape Town and there are frequent boat trips during clement weather.
The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a 250,000-hectare nature reserve situated along the eastern escarpment of the
Drakensberg Mountains in western KwaZulu-Natal. The park is one of mountains and rocky valleys and contains many
caves that are decorated by some of the finest rock paintings in sub-Saharan Africa. The San people made these
paintings of animals and their hunters over a period of four thousand years. uKhahlamba is the Zulu word for Barrier of
Spears, which describes the huge barrier of the Drakensberg Mountains.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 2003. Mapungubwe was the centre of a large kingdom that traded with Arabia, India, Egypt and China more than a thousand years ago. Mapungubwe was discovered in 1932 but kept secret from the public until recently. There have been several important finds of gold artifacts especially in the palace area, which is located on the flat-topped Mapungubwe Mountain. The site was abandoned in the 14 th Century, but what survives is the virtually untouched remains of the palace and settlement area.
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas are a collection of eight protected areas totaling more than 500000 hectares. This
area comprises less than 0.5% of Africa’s total area yet is home to some 20% of Africa’s flora. The unique qualities
displayed by plants in this World Heritage Site have proved to be of immeasurable value to science. In this Fynbos area of
the Cape plants have shown remarkable adaptation to the environment, and particularly to frequent fires.
Vredefort Dome can be found some 120 kilometres to the southwest of Johannesburg. The dome, as it is called, is an
impact crater formed over two billion years ago when a meteorite as large as Table Mountain plunged into the Earth.
The impact structure of this collision left a crater almost 250 kilometres wide, making it the oldest and largest crater in the
world. The Vredefort Dome was added to the World Heritage Sites in 2005.
Keywords: World Heritage Sites, Africa, South Africa, Cradle of Humankind, Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, Robben Island, uKhahlamba, Drakensberg Park, Mapungubwe, Cape Floral Region, Vredefort Dome, impact crater,
© Michael J Mason 2009