afrol News, 29 June - The South African government had nominated two nature gems, Prince Edward Islands and Richtersveld, as natural sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, but a failure to get a recommendation caused a silent retreat by authorities. Government now celebrates Richtersveld at least was inscribed as a cultural site.
The complicated procedures for getting a World Heritage inscription from the start did not go way the South African Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had wanted. With seven unique South African sites already inscribed on the list, Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk had thought Pretoria knew how to get two more sites easily listed.
The UNESCO World Heritage committee, which this week has been united in New Zealand, expects an analysis and recommendation from the world conservation union IUCN for candidate natural sites. The advisory body for potential cultural sites is the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
But analysing the two South African candidate sites, IUCN did not find it could recommend neither Prince Edward Islands nor Richtersveld as natural world heritage. The two sites did not meet conditions on uniqueness.
"The situation of the Prince Edward Islands is that IUCN did not recommend they be inscribed to the list," Sarah Halls of IUCN told afrol News. "When the government found this out, they decided to withdraw their application totally," she added. Therefore, the site was not discussed at all during the New Zealand meeting. "Maybe in a year or two they will decide to reapply, but we will just have to wait and see," Ms Halls held.
With the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, the situation was a bit more complicated. "Again, IUCN decided not to recommend its inscription," Ms Halls said. "However the state party then disputed this" and went forward with its application against the recommendation of IUCN, the official advisory body.
The South African government made sure to nominate Richtersveld as a mixed property, which meant both cultural and natural values had to be approved. While
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is the last refuge of indigenous Nama semi-nomads living in a traditional way: «Not recommended as a natural World Heritage site; recommended as cultural World Heritage.»
IUCN did not recommend Richtersveld, ICOMOS found that the site had unique cultural values. The UNESCO committee yesterday chose to listen to its two advisory bodies and went against the South African nomination as a mixed site. Richtersveld thus only was inscribed as a cultural site on the World Heritage List.
The South African Environment and Tourism Ministry so far has been able to hide this setback from the press. Minister van Schalkwyk yesterday presented the inscription of Richtersveld as a cultural site as a great victory for South Africa despite the failure to have the two properties inscribed as natural sites.
For Richtersveld, however, the World Heritage listing as a cultural site still could be seen as a victory. Also for the history of Southern Africa, Richtersveld's listing is of great importance as it sustains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people, descendants of Southern Africa's indigenous but decimated Khoi-Khoi people.
According to the UNESCO evaluation, the site reflects "seasonal patterns that may have persisted for as much as two millennia in Southern Africa. It is the only area where the Nama still construct portable houses, haru oms." The property also includes seasonal migrations and grazing grounds, stockposts and Nama rush mat houses. The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape covers an area of 160,000 hectares of dramatic mountainous desert in the north-west part of South Africa.
Richtersveld is thus the eighth South African World Heritage Site. It joins the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park (Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park), the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, Robben Island, the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape and the Vredefort Dome on the UNESCO list.
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