South African World heritage sites – A UNESCO World Heritage Site is listed by UNESCO as being of special cultural or physical significance. It catalogues, names and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the province wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
South Africa has ten(2018) world heritage sites proclaimed by UNESCO:
- Robben Island: situated 11 km offshore from Cape Town, the island is most famous as the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. It is now home to the world-renowned Robben Island Museum and has become a popular tourist attraction.
- The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 in recognition of its natural beauty and unique global values. The 332 000-ha park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700-year-old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000-year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means “miracle” or “wonder”. The park also has four Ramsar sites.
- The Cradle of Humankind consisting of the hominid fossil sites at Swartkrans, Sterkfontein and Kromdraai. The world heritage status of Sterkfontein’s fossil hominid sites was extended in July 2005 to include the Taung skull fossil site in North West and the Mokopane Valley in Limpopo. The Cradle of Humankind has one of the world’s richest concentrations of hominid fossils that provide evidence of human evolution over the past 3,5 million years. Found in Gauteng and North West, the fossil sites cover an area of 47 000 ha. The remains of ancient forms of animals, plants and hominids are encased in a bed of dolomite deposited around 2,5 billion years ago. In April 2010, a new species of hominid, Australopithecus Sediba, estimated to be two million years old, was discovered in the Cradle of Humankind.
- The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (a mixed natural and cultural site) is a world heritage site covering 242 813 ha (2 428 km²). The park spans parts of both South Africa and Lesotho. The park includes the Royal Natal National Park, a provincial park, and the Drakensberg National Park, which covers part of the Drakensberg, the highest mountain in southern Africa. Under the Ramsar Convention, the park is in the List of Wetlands of International Importance.
- Mapungubwe Heritage Site: in September 2011, the DEA, SANParks and Coal of Africa Limited signed a historical Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) as part of the environmental authorisation issued in accordance with Nema of 1998, to ensure the integrity of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site. According to the MoA, the integrity of the World Heritage Site will be maintained through comprehensive biodiversity offset programmes, thereby optimising benefits to local communities.
- Cape Floral Region, the smallest of the six recognised floral kingdoms of the world, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and home to more than 9 000 vascular plant species, of which 69% are endemic. Much of this diversity is associated with the fynbos biome. The economical worth of fynbos biodiversity, based on harvests of fynbos products (e.g. wildflowers) and ecotourism, is estimated to be in the region of R77 million a year. In July 2015, UNESCO approved the extension of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site. At the time of inscription, the site was made up of eight protected areas comprising about 553 000 ha. The eight protected areas are located in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. The extension brings the size of the World Heritage Site to 1 094 742 ha and increases the number of protected area clusters making up the Cape Floral Region from eight to 13.
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape: The site covers 160 000 ha of dramatic mountainous desert in the north-west of South Africa. It is the only area where the Nama still construct portable rush-covered domed houses, or !haru oms.
- Vredefort Dome, about 120 km south-west of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure, or astrobleme. Dating back more than two million years, it is the oldest astrobleme yet found on Earth. With a radius of 190 km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which had devastating global effects including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes. It provides evidence of the Earth’s geological history and is crucial to understanding of the evolution of the planet. Despite the importance of impact sites to an the planet’s history, geological activity on the Earth’s surface has led to the disappearance of evidence from most of them, and Vredefort is the only example to provide a full geological profile of an astrobleme below the crater floor.
- Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains – Situated in north-eastern South Africa, the property comprises 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, one of the world’s oldest geological structures. The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains represents the best-preserved succession of volcanic and sedimentary rock dating back 3.6 to 3.25 billion years, when the first continents were starting to form on the primitive Earth. It features meteor-impact fallback breccias resulting from the impact of meteorites formed just after the Great Bombardment (4.6 to 3.8 billion years ago), which are particularly well preserved.
- ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border with Botswana and Namibia in the northern part of the country, coinciding with the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP). The large expanse of sand contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present and is associated with the culture of the formerly nomadic ǂKhomani San people and the strategies that allowed them to adapt to harsh desert conditions. They developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.
Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (1999,2005)
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (2003)
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (2007)
Robben Island (1999)
ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape (2017)
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (2018)
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (2004,2015)
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (1999)
Vredefort Dome (2005)
Maloti-Drakensberg Park (2000,2013)
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