Thursday, August 13, 2009

Finding synergy in World Heritage

Sunset at Maropeng Hotel
The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is, and will always be, the love of my career. I loved the complexity of the project. I loved the storyline, which incorporated the whole of human existence, and more - and more! I loved the extraordinary vision which the project projected. I loved the grandeur, the ability to actually encounter one's ancestors.
I am here, staying at the Maropeng Hotel, accompanying local politicians, in the hope to persuade them that much the same can (and should!) be done in the Western Cape. This is my rationale:
The Winelands region of the Western Cape is presently
listed on the tentative list for consideration of the World Heritage Committee, for possible listing as a World Heritage Site.

The advantage of having the site listed as a World Heritage Site are numerous, amongst which are the following:

World recognition for the area;
Careful control of development in the site, in order to preserve the integrity of the site;
Increased tourism opportunity and potential;
Employment and job creation;
Environmental norms and standards set and maintained through agreements with landowners.

The Cape Winelands is critical to an understanding of the Province. Indeed it has been argued that the Cape Winelands is the single most important key to understanding the social and political development of the province – and by extension – South Africa as a whole. It was the Cape Winelands which set the pattern of relationships between colonisers and colonised; slave and master; land owners and farm workers down the centuries. The development of the Cape Winelands has left an indelible imprint on the history of our country and the effects of that relationship are still with us today.

The Cape Winelands, linked inevitably with the Castle in Cape Town, remains the single most obvious and significant link to the shape and circumstance of our colonial past. It speaks powerfully to a story of social inequality, social norms and continuing challenges which both continue and persist. It also is the showcase for a range of initiatives to redress this past and contribute to the social transformation of the region and the country.

The Cape Winelands showcases a critical link between the past and the present and is played out in a range of social inequalities, both in terms of social practise, opportunities and benefits which the few have generally maintained and benefited from and which the many have been denied.


The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999. The Gauteng Provincial Government, under its “Blue IQ” programme, moved quickly to secure the benefits of this listing and made an amount of R350m available for infrastructure development and the development of the site as a whole. The site is vast (48 000ha) and is almost entirely privately owned. Sterkfontein, along with all of the fossil sites in the area, is on private land. The rest of the site is owned by some1200 landowners, (one of whom owns approximately 40% of the site as an individual).

When the site was listed, roads leading to the site were poor and infrastructure in the site negligible. The area was one of the poorest and least desirable areas of Gauteng. Sterkfontein Caves, the most well known and most significant of the fossil sites, had a tiny café run by Rotary and an exhibition which was minute and less than attractive. There was no visitor centre at all, and besides the guides available at the caves, no interpretation of the site at all.

The project secured 100ha of land as a donation from Standard bank (on a farm owned by the bank) called Mohale’s Gate. This site was just off the World Heritage Site and therefore development could take place on it, which would not compromise the integrity of the World Heritage Site itself, nor set undesirable precedents for the World Heritage Site itself. It was on this site that the major visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind was built (called Maropeng – place of bones), a mostly underground Tumulus building, which is multi-functional and, which because of its character and approach, is designed to take pressure of the Sterkfontein caves, which is only capable of a limited through-flow of tourists. Sterkfontein was also developed, but in a much more discrete way. The capital cost for this development was R163m and the development took place as a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Complementary developments, of roads and other infrastructure took place, to enable easy access to, through, and around the site. These were a major source of employment for the duration of the project.

The effect of the Cradle of Humankind development on the area has been profound. Tourism has increased rapidly, way surpassing projections. There was an increase in tourism associated businesses and product owners in the area (from 60 in 2000 to 417 in April 2008). In addition, land prices in the area have soared and jobs (7000 permanent and 2200 casual as of April 2008) have been created through an increase in the tourism industry and through infrastructure.

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in Gauteng shares many similarities with the Cape Winelands:

It is on a vast land area, with significant sites scattered around it;
It is, mostly, privately owned;
It is a scientific and cultural resource (COH: palaeontology – Cape Winelands: viticulture) which can be harnessed and profiled for community benefit;
It is extraordinarily scenic;
It has a history of exclusion and elitism;
If government does not take the lead in the development of the site, it is likely to become highly exploited by private developers;
It presents a unique opportunity for community access and community development;
It provides a strong opportunity for creative, cultural and business development.

Now the difference, as I see it, between the Western Cape Province and Gauteng (which is where the Cradle of Humankind is situated) is the fact that the Gauteng provincial government put some R350m into the project. And a team was appointed to ensure that the site was made into a world class tourism destination. I believe the same is possible in the Western Cape - provided that there is the will to do it!

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