South Africa's Most Endangered Heritage Sites Have Been Revealed

Bo Kaap, Cape Town
Bo Kaap, Cape Town | Jessica Stafford / © Culture Trip
Photo of Andrew Thompson
Freelance Writer - June 2018

South Africa is home to some of Africa’s most revered cultural heritage sites. In fact, together with Ethiopia and Morocco, the country has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the continent. However, a new report indicates that some of the country’s key destinations are currently under threat.

According to the Heritage Monitoring Project (HMP), several of South Africa’s iconic sites are at risk, as a result of either human destruction or natural issues. In the HMP’s annual Most Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites report, they reveal that a range of sites, including historical buildings, sites of conflict, mills, museums and even fortifications, are considered to be under threat.

Many nominations for threatened sites came from the public, who raised concerns about 35 different places and structures. A lack of funding, poor maintenance, the effects of gentrification and pressure from new developments are all closing in on some of the country’s most prized destinations.

These are the sites that, according to the HMP, require the most immediate attention.

Botshabelo Mission Station, Mpumalanga

This mission station dates back to 1865, when it was a place of safety for converts following the King of the Bapedi’s attempted suppression of Christianity. The station has since developed into a small town. But infighting amongst local land claimers has meant that this historically important station is now under increasing threat of neglect.

Bo-Kaap, Western Cape

The Bo-Kaap is one of the Cape’s principal tourist attractions. It contains some of the oldest Cape residential architecture still intact, and thousands of people visit the suburb each year to snap photographs of the colourful homes. The primary threat to the Bo-Kaap is ongoing gentrification, and many new buildings and businesses are conflicting with the original residential character of the region.

Bo Kaap, Cape Town | Jessica Stafford / © Culture Trip
Bo Kaap, Cape Town | Jessica Stafford / © Culture Trip

Fort Hendrina, Limpopo

Fort Hendrina in Limpopo dates back to 1887, and is believed to be the only remaining iron fort in South Africa. The fort is Austrian-designed, and saw action during the South African Anglo-Boer War. According to activists, the local municipality that owns the fort has neglected it and it is in urgent need of restoration.

Village of Bathurst, Eastern Cape

Many consider the village of Bathurst to be the heart of settler country. The 1820 British Settlers built many important structures in this region, many of which are dilapidated and in urgent need of repair.

Xolobeni Red Dunes, Eastern Cape

Some believe that this site along the country’s Wild Coast has seen up to 300,000 years of human occupation. Tools found on the site date back to the Late Acheulean complex and the Sangoan period. The area is under direct threat from mining, and though a moratorium is currently in place, should it go ahead again it will devastate the remaining site.

Though the HMP has raised concerns about the state of some of the country’s most important heritage sites, they are pleased with the amount of public concern and involvement that has been shown. Furthermore, they hope that by running an annual review of these sites, they’ll continue to publicise the variety of important heritages that South Africa is home to.

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