Ancient kingdoms, diverse eco-systems, an invasion of space, and a modern-day freedom struggle, all these are celebrated at South Africa’s World Heritage Sites.
World Heritage sites are determined by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee. The committee seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding universal value to humanity.
South Africa is home to eight official sites – four cultural, three natural and one mixed (cultural and natural). Starting with the first South African site added to the list, ending with the latest, these are:
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park comprises eight interdependent ecosystems and an overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna. The park, formerly known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, is a prime destination for those looking for a combination of marine splendor and pristine beaches.
At times a leper colony, mental hospital and defense training base, the Robben Island World Heritage Site is more famed as the prison to which anti-apartheid activists, among them former president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, were banished. A “university of the struggle”, its graduates went on to lead South Africa into democracy.
Cradle of Humankind
About 50km north-west of Johannesburg is the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, an area of undulating grassland, rocky outcrops and river courses typical of the Highveld before it was overtaken by urban sprawl. It’s a place that draws visitors from around the world for the fossil record that lies in the network of limestone caves beneath the surface.
uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park
The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is renowned for its stunning river valleys and rocky gorges, where many threatened indigenous plant and animal species are found. The mountains are also home to about 600 rock art sites created by the nomadic San people.
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
About the time of the Dark Ages of Europe, the royal court at Mapungubwe in Limpopo welcomed traders and men of influence from Arabia and the Far East. Only in recent decades have archeologists pieced together the fascinating details of this ancient city by sifting through stones, bones, and artifacts.
Cape Floral Region
Occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, mostly in winter rainfall coastal and mountainous areas, South Africa’s fynbos vegetation is a miracle of survival in adversity and makes up the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest region of its kind in the world.
Imagine an asteroid the size of Table Mountain heading for earth at a speed of 20km per second. Packing more punch than multiple nuclear bombs, it penetrates 17km deep into the Earth, and leaves an impact crater so large it’s been declared a World Heritage Site. Thankfully the meteorite collision that formed the Vredefort Dome happened a long time ago, more than two-million years back, before life as we know it.
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, which encompasses the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, is an area of extraordinary biodiversity, ranging from small succulents to giant aloes, from African wild cats to antelope and many rare bird species endemic to the region. It is also one of the areas in southern Africa that is still home to a group of nomadic herders.