Cape Town – Heritage month is celebrated annually in September, and it's the perfect time to reflect on what heritage means to each of us.
This year Heritage Day, celebrated on 24 September, falls on a Monday giving you a lovely, long-weekend to plan around.
So what does your heritage mean to you? Is heritage a combination of the natural features of the land in which you live? Is it the cultural history that has evolved as time elapsed or the historical context that shaped society into what it is today? Do you think your heritage is based on a combination of ethnicity and traditions?
Well, heritage is in fact a blend of all of this.
In South Africa’s diverse social and natural landscape, exploring and celebrating one’s heritage is as varied as indulging in a hiking trail, visiting Table Mountain, or listening to talk about the country’s history or wildlife.
One of the country’s most treasured places, boasting significance not only to South African heritage but to all of humankind, is the Cradle of Humankind - the world's richest hominin site.
Reflecting on or learning about where we come from is an imperative part of understanding, acknowledging and appreciating our heritage.
When it comes to appreciating and celebrating South African cultural heritage, it is therefore also important to acknowledge the Khoisan - the aboriginal people of southern Africa.
South African Tourism says that the original San hunter-gatherer groups lived in SA “for about 100000 years before the arrival of other black people and European settlers”, while the pastoral “KhoiKhoi appeared 2000 years ago”.
“It is a sad part of South African history that these two vibrant and culturally-rich tribes are now almost extinct; with Khoisan culture pushed to the periphery of our society,” says SA Tourism, adding that the tribes “have left an indelible mark on our society” which is evident through their rock art which can be seen in various parts of the country.
But all is not lost, and in an attempt to preserve what’s left of this remarkable living heritage, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it SA’s latest addition. Check out SA's 9 world heritage sites here.
‡Khomani Cultural Landscape is associated with the culture of the ‡Khomani and related San people who descend directly from an ancient population considered to be the ancestors of the entire human race.
Bearing testimony to the way of life
According to UNESCO, the #Khomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.
"They developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview related to the geographical features of their environment," says UNESCO.
SANParks Chief Executive Officer, Fundisile Mketeni says that inscribing by UNESCO “gives recognition to the great work being done in the preservation and promotion of South Africa’s diverse heritage.”
Tourism Minister Thokozile Xasa says she applauds the local communities in the area for their efforts to preserve their culture, adding that this “will formalise and consolidate the continued preservation of ancient cultural practices and traditions”.
Exploring ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape
‡Khomani Cultural Landscape covers the entire Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and is part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park bordering Botswana and Namibia.
In South Africa, the area covers 959,100 hectares in Dawid Kruiper District Municipality in the west of the country, and is considered to be a unique link with the region’s ancient inhabitants, their culture, language and connection to the environment which holds a spiritual dimension.
Apart from seeing the incredible beauty of the Kalahari landscape, there are a variety of activities for visitors at ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape, including going on walks and trails with guides.
The living museum allows one to learn more about the history and culture, and for a foodie experience try out Aunt Koera’s Farm Kitchen.
There are also opportunities to learn how to hunt like the tribe, or be entertained by traditional storytelling, song and dance.
If you’d like to stay over at the Landscape, there is a range of accommodation available in the area such as Witdraai Bush Camp, Erin Traditional Farm, The !Ae!hai Heritage Park and !Xaus Lodge.
However, ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape is not the only place in SA where one can learn more about Khoisan heritage and the roots of humankind. Check out these Khoisan sites to explore across the country:
Situated in the Kuruman Hills between Danielskuil and Kuruman in the Northern Cape, this cave has long record of human history in excess of 800 000 years.
This prehistoric cave is open to the public with certain areas cordoned off for research and conservation purposes. There are wheelchair-friendly cave walkways for visitors as well as an information and exhibition centre.
Contact: 082 832 7226.
On the outskirts of Kimberley, see more than 200 images of San and Khoi people, at the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre.
Also see displays, a twenty-minute introductory film, and go for a 800m walk to view a number of information points, while a guide will provide commentary and answer any of your questions.
Contact: 053 833 7069, 082 222 4777 or e-mail email@example.com.
At !Khwa ttu, experience authentic interactions with San guided tours that offer insight into the culture, heritage, knowledge, skills and contemporary life of the San.
Visitors can also make the most of a mountain bike trail or go on the walking trails to view game and explore the unique plants of the area. Also enjoy local food and view art and photography exhibitions.
Contact: 022 492 2998
The collections at Iziko Museum consists of stone and bone artefacts, shell, pottery, faunal material as well as rock art reproductions from Pre-colonial archaeology.
See a collection of almost 2 000 rock art reproductions from the mid-19th century to the more recent past, and learn about the artefacts used by South Africa’s ancient tribes for their daily survival.
Contact: 021 481 3883 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Situated near East London, The Nahoon Footprints is home to prints of a human child dating to 124000 years ago, making this the oldest human footprints of its kind.
The 2.6km stretch of coast is part of the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve and a network of boardwalks protects the dune field and leads you to a lookout point where you can see Bat’s Cave, where the footprints were discovered.
Contact: 043 743 0686 or e-mail email@example.com.
Near Hankey, in the Cacadu District Municipality of Eastern Cape, one can view the Sarah Baartman memorial. Her grave has been declared a national heritage site.
Baartman, a Khoisan woman, was taken to England where she was captured as a slave and became the object of racism and exploitation. She became an icon of oppression and colonialism when she was forced to publicly display her “unusual physical features and she was subsequently displayed as a scientific curiosity”.
See San Bushman rock art in beautiful surroundings at the open-air Bushman Cave Museum in the Giant's Castle Reserve.
Take a short walk to the cave, which features 500 rock paintings, some of which are estimated to be around 800 years old.
Contact: 036 448 1557 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are more than 40 000 San Bushman rock art images in Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, in KwaZulu-Natal, and the Kamberg Rock Art Centre in the Kamberg Nature Reserve helps visitors understand and interpret them.
This site forms part of the Kamberg San Rock Art Trail in the scenic Drakensberg mountain range, the first place where rock art was discovered in SA. The trail includes an informative Interpretive Centre.
Contact: 033 845 1000/ 033 263 7251 or e-mail email@example.com.
Maropeng, the visitors centre at the Cradle of Humankind, is a 45-minute drive from central Johannesburg and a fountain of anthropological knowledge.
The Maropeng visitor centre and the Sterkfontein caves allow you to discover the secrets of our past and learn about humankind’s history.
With more than 1000 hominid fossils found in the 47 000 hectares that make up this World Heritage Site, there’s no way you can exclude it from your ultimate heritage month bucket-list of adventures.
Contact: 014 577 9000 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to read next on Traveller24: