Experts take measures to preserve San rock art

2008-07-10 00:00

Concern about the growing impact of visitors on priceless and fragile rock art sites in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park has prompted pre-emptive action from Amafa.

“Damage takes place in various ways, [from] lighting fires in the caves, graffiti, splashing water over the paintings to see them better, and dust from human traffic,” said Celeste Roussouw, rock art specialist for the provincial heritage body.

Amafa is the custodian of some 600 sites with more than 60 000 individual images painted by the hunter-gatherer San people over 8 000 years. This makes the park the world’s richest outdoor art gallery and one reason for its listing as a World Heritage Site in 2000.

“In consultation with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, who are conservation managers of the park, we have chosen specific sites for low-impact tourism,” said Roussouw. “Every visitor must be accompanied by an Amafa-accredited rock art custodian (charges range from R25 to R75 per person depending on the length of the walk) who will guide you there and explain visitor etiquette.

“Custodians are drawn from neighbouring communities who get direct income, which helps create awareness of the value of this rich heritage.

“Another problem is the use of sites as overnight shelters by cattle herders whose fires cause damage. We’ve begun a project with the Mweni and Ndlankomo Rock Art Monitoring Groups to build rustic huts as alternatives … Some are already in place.”

Rock art sites still open to the public include the most spectacular and famous. In the northern Drakensberg, Sigubudu Cave, Lower Mushroom Shelter, Procession Shelter and Brotherton Rock are open for viewing and in the central Drakensberg main caves at Giant’s Castle and Battle Cave at Injasuthi are open.

In the southern Drakensberg, Game Pass Shelter at Kamberg — where one painting of a dying eland enabled researchers to interpret some of the art’s purpose and meaning — is open for viewing.

Near Underberg, Himeville and Sani Pass the best sites to visit are Mpongweni and Ikanti.

Amafa noted that the closure of rock art sites to protect them is not unusual.

In France the famous Lascaux Caves were closed in 1962, with an exact replica later built nearby for tourists.

For further information, contact Celeste Roussouw at 082 392 0495, or e-mail her at


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