4. Challenges and Opportunities

While the current heritage legislation is an improvement on preceding legislation, there are areas of 'ownership' that still need to be addressed. For example, the question of whether the state is well positioned to protect and conserve all forms of cultural heritage needs to be addressed.

Among the challenges, there are two issues to highlight: (i) management paradigm and (ii) access to heritage resources. I argue that the management paradigm in the NHRA has not changed. Instead, the same Eurocentric and physical approach evident in the previous legislation is still applicable (Ndlovu 2005; 2009) (Eurocentric and physical management focuses on attempts to prevent the natural and human threats to rock art sites. In this way, rock art sites are managed as museums in the shelters of the mountains.). Many African communities may still not legally own the properties in which heritage resources of significance to them are found, and therefore our legislation principles and the values enshrined need to be adapted accordingly. Such principles need to reflect the cultural diversity of South Africa, and the different belief systems attached to such diversity. While these values are enshrined and protected in the constitution, this remains theory only. The values of African communities need to be adequately addressed in the heritage legislation. This transformation of our legislation is much desired to take the management of our rich and diverse heritage to new heights (Ndlovu 2011). This means that we need to address the issue of 'ownership' of heritage resources.

Access given under the current management paradigm is problematic because it enforces upon people those values that may go against the performance of a particular ritual. The classic case study is provided by the Duma clan from the Thendele area in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (uDP). Even though they are allowed access to Game Pass Shelter at Kamberg Nature Reserve once a year to perform their ritual ceremony, the conditions attached are of concern (Ndlovu 2009). Firstly, the clan members would like to kill the eland. However, due to biodiversity regulations and the fact that eland migrate to higher lying areas around September, which is the preferred time for the ritual, this is not possible. Instead, they have to compromise and request a local farmer to kill the eland on their behalf. Second, only ten members are allowed into Game Pass Shelter at any given moment during the ceremony. If one understands the way in which African ritual ceremonies are conducted, it will immediately become clear that this condition effectively 'destroys' the whole ceremony. What we can see from these conditions is that the interests of those with power are served. They can appear in some circles as sensitive to the ritual needs of the people. The physical appearance of rock art images at Game Pass Shelter would be protected because of the restricted access and other relevant conditions attached to the approval of the ritual ceremony. The 'failure' of the ritual ceremony is of concern. This is solely because the Duma clan members do not own the land in which Game Pass Shelter is sited. In addition, the current management paradigm determines their activities as going against those of the heritage legislation. Some of the actions are seen as not good for the long-term protection of the rock art images at the shelter; for instance, dancing and burning incense inside the shelter. While this is the case for the Duma clan, the same does not apply to the traditional healer who accesses one of the rock art sites at oKhombe for ritual purposes. oKhombe is in the north of uDP and not in government owned and managed land (Ndlovu 2005). Because the site is in communally owned land and under the custodianship of the local Chief, the same stringent regulations that control access at Kamberg Nature Reserve are not applicable.

Besides the challenges noted above relating to the management paradigm and issues of access to sites for ritual purposes, there is an opportunity to amend the NHRA. I suggest that the foundation to these amendments should be influenced by a number of things. First, rather than a blanket approach, the amended NHRA should distinguish between sites that have ritual significance and those that do not. For the former, the management paradigm should be informed by the cultural beliefs of the people. Access should be negotiated with the land owners, whether this is private owners or government. Balancing cultural rights and those of land owners can be a challenge. However, a common ground should still be found through negotiations facilitated by heritage professionals tasked with the implementation of the NHRA. The implications of this are that the rights of both communities and land owners would be respected and each would feel important that they can address issues that are significant to them. Second, the amended NHRA should make a significant effort towards becoming truly post-colonial. This can be achieved by ensuring that those responsible for amending the NHRA have a sound understanding of African cultural beliefs. I argue that by amending the NHRA and addressing the concerns highlighted in this article, a significant trend in the management of heritage resources, particularly in southern Africa, would be initiated. In this way, an opportunity exists to ensure that the management of heritage resources would become relevant to all societies in the country. It is an opportunity to be taken and driven by SAHRA, as the main heritage resources authority in the country.

As an important opportunity, an improved legislation is what we should be working towards. Even though relevant government structures are tasked with the responsibility to look after valuable, non-renewable heritage resources, heritage legislation can still be amended such that it addresses concerns of 'ownership' in an improved manner. If we aim to apply post-colonial principles in our management approaches, it is high time that we do not only speak of living heritage in our legislation but that we let communities play a direct and significant role in the management of their heritage. Since 1911, heritage management has been defined by the intervention of non-governmental and government structures. As a result, African communities in particular have not been directly involved in determining the approached to the management of their own heritage. This is largely because they are not seen as owners of their own heritage.

I recommend that heritage authorities categorise sites differently. Those that continue to carry spiritual significance to particular groups of people should be managed differently. The same standards that are applied to other forms of heritage resources that prescribe how they are protected and conserved should not be used here. Instead, community leaders, as approved by relevant community structures, could appoint custodians under whose leadership such sites would be managed. They should not simply be the 'eyes and ears' of the heritage resource authorities. As a result, this means that their management approach should be defined by community structures determined by the principles that are considered significant for particular kinds of ceremonies. As heritage managers, who are tasked with the responsibility of protecting and conserving heritage resources, we should not determine the management paradigm for such heritage sites. This will provide a beginning of a truly post-colonial approach to heritage management.


Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

University of York legal statements

File last updated: Thu Feb 28 2013