SA’s most endangered cultural heritage sites

AMAMPONDO VILLAGES The villages are vestiges of culture, but are being threatened by a toll road and open-cast mining  PHOTO: VALERIE PAYN
AMAMPONDO VILLAGES The villages are vestiges of culture, but are being threatened by a toll road and open-cast mining PHOTO: VALERIE PAYN

Heritage sites are part of our history and teach us about who we are. Unfortunately, sites like these are in danger of being lost through neglect or man-made destruction.

The Heritage Monitoring Project (HMP) and the Heritage Association of SA have identified and raised awareness about places that are in trouble. This year, they teamed up with City Press to put out a call to the public to nominate sites of concern. According to Jacques Stoltz, founding member of the HMP, “most of the sites are threatened by a combination of poor heritage law enforcement and mining licences being issued in complete disregard of our heritage”.

They also perish due to urbanisation, underinvestment, poor state of asset management and endless delays in resolving land claims. Many communities still find themselves in the shadow of apartheid spatial planning.

But many civil society organisations have rallied around endangered sites, fighting government malaise and corporate interests to protect their communities. It’s because of them that there is hope for some of these sites.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

AmaMpondo Cultural Heritage Landscape, Wild Coast, Eastern Cape

The amaMpondo villages have nurtured the history of the clans of Sigidi, Mpindweni, Mdatya, Mtolani, Gobodweni, Mtentu (aka Nyavini) and Mabaleni along the Wild Coast. The amaMpondo still use traditional farming methods and practice their rituals, festivals and spiritual beliefs here. These villages are the last that survive amid a strong push from government to develop the Wild Coast N2 toll road. In addition, the area faces a real danger of open-cast mining of titanium, not only threatening the villages, but the pristine natural beauty of the Wild Coast.

It was nominated by Sustaining the Wild Coast.

Buffeljagsrivier Bridge, Overberg, Western Cape

Known as Sugar Bridge due to the use of molasses as a binding agent in the stonework, Buffeljagsrivier Bridge was constructed in 1852. It is the third oldest bridge of historic significance in South Africa. It stands in a graded provincial heritage site and, if made functional again, could serve the local community and boost tourism with historic civil engineering. The bridge has been severely neglected and its deterioration pollutes the environment around it. It is also at risk from further flood damage.

The bridge was nominated by

Canteen Kopje, Barkly West, Northern Cape

This small hill in Barkly West is a prime archaeological example of the early to late Stone Age, the Iron Age and colonial contact period (when Africans first met Europeans). It is thought to contain tens of millions of artefacts dating back to the early Stone Age, about 2.3 million years ago. Although declared a heritage site by government in the 1940s, mining excavations took place at Canteen Kopje in the 1990s. Due to pressure from the local community, a high court ruling prohibited further mining. Unfortunately, a recent decision by the department of mineral resources to grant a mining permit close to the site threatens the Kopje again.

The kopje was nominated by McGregor Museum, Sol Plaatje University, Historical Society of Kimberley and the Northern Cape Provincial Government 

Central Mill, Rimer’s Creek, Barberton, Mpumalanga

Rimer’s Creek (originally known as Umvoti Creek) is a valuable 18th century gold mining site that formed the nucleus around which the town of Barberton evolved. The historic Central Mill stands where one can see how gold ore was crushed. It is situated in what will eventually become the gateway to the beautiful Barberton Makhonjwa Mountainlands area – a site that is waiting to be put on the Unesco World Heritage Site list.

Unfortunately, there are plans to build a heavy truck parking lot and pipe storage yard on top of this site. Despite massive objections by the community, the facilities, which will be an eyesore, are to be placed in the midst of heritage homes and provincial heritage sites.

The creek was nominated by the Umjindi Environmental Committee, the Umjindi Barberton Ratepayers Association & other Interested and Affected Parties.

Cullinan Mine Workers Compound, Cullinan, Gauteng

The Cullinan compounds were built in 1908 to house up to 15 000 black workers from all over southern Africa. They were segregated along strict colonial and apartheid-era ethnic lines. As such, it is a prime example of how black mine workers lived in the 1900s.

Like many other black mine worker compounds, the history of the site has largely been forgotten.

The compound was abandoned in 1971 and is collapsing. The associated graves are also deteriorating, while the fountain is at risk of being completely overgrown.

It was nominated by the Cullinan Heritage Society.

East Fort, Hout Bay, Western Cape

Established in 1782, this 6.4 hectare military fort has significant potential to be redeveloped as a heritage tourism destination. Surrounded by the East Fort Battery stone fortification, it is today bisected by Chapman’s Peak Drive, part of one of the country’s most scenic routes.

Though some of its buildings cannot be restored, it still has a battery of old guns that have been restored and have been ceremonially fired on many special occasions.

It is a valuable example of colonial military history and has great future potential. It is exposed to fire risks, with two major ones having occurred since SA National Parks took over the site.

The fort was nominated by the Hout Bay and Llandudno Heritage Association. 

Pageview (Fietas), Johannesburg, Gauteng

Established in 1893/4 as an “old Malay camp” for predominantly coloured and Malay people, Pageview (known as Fietas) over time became a lively multicultural community accommodating people from all sections of the population. Following the Group Areas Act of 1950, the suburb was proclaimed a white area. In 1975, residents and businesses were bulldozed and traders were relocated.

Efforts by the Fietas Museum to attract visitors and interest in Pageview have been undermined by years of waiting for land claims to be resolved. Surviving buildings are at risk of collapsing due to lack of investment.

It was nominated by The Fietas Memory in Action Museum.

Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga

Pilgrim’s Rest was established in 1872 and was once a thriving tourist attraction. Its Reduction Works section is considered by some to be the first gold-related industrial plant in Africa and it formed the basis of a Unesco World Heritage Site tentative submission.

Years of neglect, poor management, theft and illegal mining have caused the town and associated industrial sites to deteriorate. Many entrepreneurs who make their livelihood from tourism in the town are now under threat.

The town was nominated by the Mpumalanga Historical Interest Groupand local businesses.
Timber Shed, Plettenberg Bay, Eastern Cape

In August 1786, the Dutch East India Company decided to build a timber shed to store wood before it was shipped off by sea. Today, this site has great historic significance due to its age. It was declared a national monument in 1961.

But it is in absolute ruins and if not maintained, it will eventually disappear. The original yellowwood lintels in the windows are buckling and in danger of collapsing. Four beams have already collapsed, resulting in the fall of a considerable amount of stonework. Although the stonework, lintels and walling can be stabilised, it will need the necessary engineering skills and funding.

Westfort Village, City of Tshwane, Gauteng

The buildings that dot the southern slope of the picturesque Bronberg mountains are the vestiges of a leprosy hospital that was built in 1897. It shows how urban planning evolved in South Africa, and the way people moved medical care from the home to large-scale scientific institutions – indicating the medical history of South Africa.

When the site stopped being used in 1997, it was mothballed and abandoned. It then became the home of a vibrant multiracial community. Unfortunately, due to a lack of proper electricity, recent fires have destroyed important structures.

The City of Tshwane plans to relocate the residents, and the site will be stripped of all useful building material and cease to exist.

It was nominated by the Van Plettenberg Historical Society.

  • For a list of the more than 46 endangered sites submitted by the public, click here.

TALK TO US: What can citizens do to protect our endangered heritage sites? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword HERITAGE. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

AMAMPONDO VILLAGES The villages are vestiges of culture, but are being threatened by a toll road and open-cast mining PHOTO: VALERIE PAYN
Rimer’s Creek The historical Rimer’s Creek is being destroyed to make a parking lot :
East Fort Little information regarding East Fort is provided near to or at the site, and it remains an enigma to passing tourists :
Westfort Village Westfort Village is the residue of the Westfort Leprosy hospital, established in 1897 PHOTO:
Timbershed This historic building is collapsing due to a lack of maintenance PHOTO:
Pilgrim’s Rest Pilgrim’s Rest’s Reduction Works is considered by some to be the first gold-related industrial plant in Africa

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