#SAHeritage: SA’s 10 most endangered cultural heritage sites revealed

2017-12-09 08:30 - Unathi Nkanjeni
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Cape Town - The Most Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites campaign, an annual initiative of the Heritage Monitoring Project (HMP) has identified the top ten cultural heritage sites that face significant risk from natural or human forces in South Africa.

With an attempt to raise public awareness, the campaign focuses on the incredible courage and dedication of individuals and local organisations fighting uncaring administrations and landowners, developers, powerful international and local mining interests and natural forces as they try to save the country’s heritage. 

“More importantly, we aim to provide a platform for heritage activists to share with the public their vision for at-risk sites and how communities can assist overcoming these risks,” says HMP co-founder, Jacques Stoltz. 

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This is the second time that the HMP issued a call to the public to nominate sites for concern. The first time was mid-year 2016.

In total, according to the project, more than 35 heritage sites across a range of categories were submitted. The nominations included historic buildings and structures, cemeteries, sites of conflict, museums, mills, memorials, a mission station, a fortification, a cultural park and even a jetty. 

HMP says the nominations show an overwhelming public response, and continues to prove that South Africans are deeply concerned about the state of their cultural heritage. 

“Each year’s nominations provide an opportunity to respond to emerging themes or trends, often a particular site tells us about what may be happening at a wider regional or national level that requires urgent attention”, Stoltz says. 

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He says, that the HMP and the judges are acutely aware that some heritage communities and activists are more privileged than others in having access to the necessary resources to prepare nominations and more importantly, to organise locally. 

"However, by running the campaign regularly, we hope that the list will become more inclusive and representative of the rich variety of heritages our country is home to," he adds.  

These 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.

See final list of sites - in alphabetic order - below

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, Western Cape 

Why this site matters

The Bo-Kaap contains some of the oldest and most intact Cape residential architecture and has become iconic for Cape Town, its distinctive colourful houses regularly featured in international travel magazines integral to the South African tourist experience. 

Why this site is endangered

Bo-Kaap is threatened by ongoing gentrification, insensitive developments approved by the City of Cape Town – often resulting in over-scaled, high-rise buildings, and land use being approved in conflict with the predominantly residential character of the area.

The Ratepayers Association has called on the urgent declaration of the Bo-Kaap as a national heritage site and for the proposed Heritage Protection Overlay Zone to be adopted and enforced by the City of Cape Town.

SEE:Bo-Kaap renamed! 4 Ways to experience this colourful, trendy corner

Botshabelo Mission Station, Mpumalanga

Why this site matters

Botshabelo was founded by Alexander Merensky and Heinrich Gruntzner in 1865 as a place of safety for missionaries and Swazi and Bapedi converts following the suppression of Christianity by Sekhukune, King of the Bapedi. 

Why this site is endangered

The Botshabelo Community Development Trust gained ownership of land falling within the Botshabelo Nature Reserve. Infighting among the claimant community resulted in years of neglect leading to buildings being vandalised, fences stolen, the disappearance of historic objects and the loss of tourism revenue as visitor numbers dwindled.

SEE: #WeDoTourism: A journey down Mpumalanga lane

Fort Hendrina, Makhado, Limpopo

Why this site matters 

This is believed to be the only extant iron fort that remains in South Africa. These forts were designed in 1887 by Captain Adolph Zboril, an Austrian, who became the second highest ranking officer in the Transvaal Artillery. 

Why this site is endangered

The Makhado Local Municipality is the custodian of Fort Hendrina. Activists claim that the fort has all but been abandoned by the municipality and is now the victim of neglect, vandalism and in need of restoration.

SEE: 5 Things that make Limpopo one of SA’s most adventurous little nooks

Goudkoppie Heritage Hill, North West

Why this site matters

Goudkoppie Heritage Hill is a grade II provincial heritage site containing a replica Iron Age village, original Khoisan rock art and stone tools, a South African War blockhouse and war era graffiti, remains of late 19th century gold mining activity and geological history connected with the gold deposits mined in the area. 

Why this site is endangered

A lack of funding to address the urgent need for security at the site hampers efforts to stop vagrancy and vandalism. The poor state of facilities is also deterring tourists. 

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Jan Smuts House Museum, Irene, Gauteng

Why this site matters

The recent release of a new biography on Jan Smuts shows that the world is not quite done with this enigmatic, although compromised South African leader. The wood and corrugated iron house, which served as an officers' mess during the South African Anglo-Boer War, was purchased by Smuts and reconstructed at Irene.

Why this site is endangered 

The trustees of the Jan Smuts Foundation face a number of challenges. The house and grounds have never benefitted from official patronage. They have been cared for by a private foundation and by enthusiasts who now find the task rather daunting.

Smuts House is in a poor state of repair and the valuable library with rare books dating from the 16th century lacks the requisite climate control necessary for the preservation of a priceless collection.

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Old Nurse's Residence (Children's Memorial Institute), Johannesburg, Gauteng

Why this site matters 

This residence was opened in 1923 as part of the original Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children. Initiated by the National Council for Women to commemorate the lives lost in the First World War, the nurse’s residence together with the Memorial Hall, two wards, a chapel and a synagogue was designed in the Classicist mould by architects Cowin, Powers and Ellis.

Why this site is endangered 

The Nurses’ Residence has been unoccupied since 1978 when the children’s hospital functions moved to the Johannesburg General Hospital (now Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital).

A lack of proper asset management and maintenance, poor security, vandalism and informal occupation has left the building stripped of many original features and equipment. With doors stolen and windows broken, structural concerns are increasingly apparent.

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Railway Stations & associated structures, across South Africa 

Why these sites matter

A report released earlier this year by the University of Pretoria’s Department of Architecture detailed the rich extent of the cultural heritage of the Netherlands-South African Railway Company (Nederlandsche-Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorwegmaatschappij, or NZASM). The research detailed the heritage significance of hundreds of railway stations, sheds, bridges, residential buildings and other structures scattered across the northern parts of the country in an enterprise that was international in scale.

Why these sites are endangered 

The Grahamstown Railway Station and platform were completed in 1879. The last line closed in 2009, leaving the station to decay and suffer vandalism.

After the closure of the line at the Heilbron station, the building was left vacant and has since been vandalised to the extent that it no longer has a roof. Local heritage activists Twin Mosia and Piet Lombard would like to develop the site as a mixed-use tourism attraction.

Tragedy Hill, Port Edward, KwaZulu Natal

Why this site matters

Tragedy Hill was the site where settlers from the party of Henry Francis Fynn and members of the local eLangeni people were killed by Zulu warriors in 1831 after an apparent misunderstanding over royal cattle belonging to Zulu king Dingane. Tragedy Hill was also the site of an earlier, dramatic incident when the ‘São João’ became the first cargo ship wrecked along South Africa’s coastline in June of 1552. 

Why this site is endangered 

The owner of an adjacent piece of property has applied for a mining permit to begin sand mining and create a borrow pit directly adjacent to Tragedy Hill. It is believed that the borrow pit may be linked to construction projects for the upgrade of the R61 between the Mtamvuna and Mbizana rivers. In the view of the judges, mining should never be allowed at the cost of heritage. The proposed mining also threatens Port Edward’s tourism economy.

Village of Bathurst, Eastern Cape

Why this site matters

In three years’ time, South Africa will commemorate the bicentenary of the arrival of the 1820 British Settlers. The Village of Bathurst lies at the heart of ‘settler country’ and is home to a number of historic sites and buildings that date back to the first settlers. Some of the buildings are in urgent need of repair and restoration work. 

Why this site is endangered

Historic Bathurst has identified a number of endangered sites that they hope to restore in time for the bicentenary, such as the Bradshaw Mill, constructed in 1822. The mill remains operational and is a big draw card for tourists. Keeping it operating is financially and physically demanding and requires rare skills.

Xolobeni Red Dunes, Wild Coast, Eastern Cape

Why this site matters 

Archaeologists believe that this paleoanthropological site could represent more than 300,000 years of human occupation.

Sites from this period are rare in South Africa and only occur in certain habitats, making more in-depth archaeological surveys of Xolobeni necessary. 

Why this site is endangered

The area is rich in heavy minerals and mining rights have been applied for and granted. The Xolobeni community objected and an 18-month moratorium was put in place in September 2016, which means that unless research is done urgently, the area may be mined and the evidence destroyed forever.

Because of conflict within the community about the mining application and a general distrust of outsiders, it has become difficult for archaeologists to access the site.

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