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The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is situated in the physiographic region known as the lowveld in an ancient valley that includes the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers. These rivers drain an extensive area and form the international border between South Africa in the south, Botswana in the North West and Zimbabwe in the north east. The area described below forms the proposed transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) around the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers which includes South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The South African side will comprise a complex mosaic of private land, state-owned land and national parks which has since led to the creation of the Mapungubwe National Park. The potential area that Zimbabwe can commit to the proposed TFCA is the Tuli Circle Safari Area covering an area of 41 100ha.
In Botswana land to be committed to the TFCA would encompass the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (NOTUGRE). NOTUGRE presently embraces 36 farms with a combined area of 70 000 ha. It is renowned for its Tuli Elephants, the largest elephant population on private land in Africa. The major features in the area are flat Mopane veldt with sandstone and conglomerate ridges and koppies south of the Limpopo River. Nearer the Limpopo, the flat landscape changes into rugged, hilly terrain. Three main vegetation communities are recognised in the region: riparian fringe along the Limpopo and Shashe rivers and tributaries; the acacia-Salvadora community of the Limpopo Flats (including flood plains) and vlei areas; and unique baobab and nlala palm stands and mixed western Mopane veldt on ridges and flats south of the riparian fringe and flood plains.
The region has an excellent potential for a 'big five' conservation area. Viable populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena still occur apart from the well known Tuli Elephants. In addition, there are significant populations of ungulates within the area of the proposed TFCA, such as eland, gemsbok, duiker, impala, zebra, Sharpe's grysbok, steenbok and blue wildebeest. The habitat is also suitable for both white and black rhinoceros. The permanent pools in the Limpopo River offer refuge to crocodiles and hippopotamus as well as a variety of indigenous fish species.
The combination of soils derived from the rocks of the karoo system, regular flooding of the Limpopo and its tributaries, good grazing and browsing lands and dry Mopane leaves for fodder during winter, provided the natural resources for both agriculture and stock farming that were needed to sustain large population when the leaders of Mapungubwe were at the height of their power. The abundant wildlife in the area provided the much needed resources for the flourishing trade in the area.
The area described above bears testimony to a cultural tradition that spanned over a long period in the three modern states of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The cultural resources are generally associated with Iron Age settlements of around 1200AD. The similarity of ivory objects, pottery remains and imported glass beads excavated at different sites that spread across the modern international borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe attests to the cultural affinity of the people that lived in the Limpopo- Shashe basin during the Iron Age. The Iron Age archaeological sites of Mapungubwe, K2, Leokwe and the Schodra site in the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa, and the Mmamagwe site in Botswana are amongst the best studied Iron Age sites in southern Africa. They represent the Zhizo, K2 and Mapungubwe Iron Age cultures that existed in this region roughly between 600AD 1300 AD. Small Iron Age sites postdating this period have also been recorded in the area, including stonewalled sites on hilltops and Khami-type ruins.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was the centre of one of the first powerful indigenous kingdoms in Southern Africa. It was established by the cultural ancestors of the present-day Shona and Venda between AD 900 and 1300. Evidence for its history is preserved in over 400 archaeological sites. The dynamic interaction between society and landscape laid the foundation for a new type of social organisation in the region.
The kingdom grew as a result of wealth that accrued to its leaders from trade with the Indian Ocean network, combined with ideal landscape conditions for agriculture that provided for a population of over 9000 people. Trade goods included gold, glass beads, cotton cloth, Chinese ceramics, ivory, copper and hides. By the thirteenth century AD, a social hierarchy had developed and impacted on the landscape. Mapungubwe hill was occupied and modified to separate the elite from the commoners below. The onset of the Little Ice Age caused drought and crop failures. The Kingdom dispersed after AD 1300, new social and political alliances were formed and the centre of regional power shifted to Great Zimbabwe.
The Mapungubwe culture extends into Botswana as shown by archaeological evidence of sites such as Mmamagwe and some other small Iron Age sites such as Commando Kop (Pitsane Kopje) in the Shashe-Limpopo area. Material evidence found at Commando Kop shows that it was successfully occupied by Zhizo, K2 and Mapungubwe people and the pottery styles is indeed Zhizo(Schroda) and Leopard's Kopje(K2 and Mapungubwe) cultural type. Small as it is the site has nevertheless yielded invaluable comparative study that clearly defined the limitless borders of the broader Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape utilised by agropastoral communities for centuries of years. The extension and nomination of the Botswana side to the existing Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in South Africa will provide evidence of a much larger kingdom that flourished in Southern Africa between AD 900 and 1300.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape satisfies criteria ii, iii, iv and v for cultural properties
(ii) It exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture, or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape contains authentic evidence for an important interchange of human values that led to cultural and social changes in Southern Africa between AD 900 AND 1300. These values are reflected in evidence for international trade in the Indian Ocean network that created wealth in the community, causing ideological adjustments and changes in architecture and town-planning. The archaeological evidence shows a shift from a 'central cattle pattern' town layout to a pattern influenced by an elite class with sacred leadership in which the king was secluded on the top of the Mapungubwe hill away from the commoners. The archaeological site of Mmamagwe in Botswana with its hilltop settlement and smaller sites in the area bear testimony to a shift in settlement pattern that occurred in the region at that time.
(iii) It bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which has disappeared.
Until its demise at the end of the thirteenth century AD, Mapungubwe was the most important inland settlement in the subcontinent. The distribution of Mapungubwe pottery shows that in its heyday between AD 900 and 1300 the kingdom extended over an area of about 30 000 sq km on either side of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. The cultural landscape contains a wealth of information in archaeological sites that record the development of the kingdom from relatively small settlements based on a central cattle pattern kraal to a capital with separate areas for the elite and commoners. The power-base of the Zimbabwe-type culture that developed along the Limpopo later shifted to Great Zimbabwe when the rainfall regime altered and it was no longer possible to support a large sedentary population. Although farming communities continued to live on and off the in the Mapungubwe region after AD 1300, they never again reached the same high population density or political power. The Mapungubwe culture extends into Botswana as shown by archaeological evidence of sites such as Mmamagwe and some other small Iron Age sites such as Commando Kop (Pitsane Kopje) in the Shashe-Limpopo area. Material evidence found at Commando Kop shows that it was successfully occupied by Zhizo, K2 and Mapungubwe people and the pottery styles is indeed Zhizo(Schroda) and Leopard's Kopje(K2 and Mapungubwe) cultural type. Small as it is the site has nevertheless yielded invaluable comparative study that clearly defined the limitless borders of the broader Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape utilised by agropastoral communities for centuries of years
(iv) It is an outstanding example of a type of architectural and technological ensemble and landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
The establishment of Mapungubwe as a powerful state trading through the East African ports with Arabia and India was a significant stage in the history of the African sub-continent. International trade, combined with ideal climatic conditions for agriculture, most effectively changed human settlement and cultural traditions and led to the establishment of sacred leadership. Also as result of the expanded trade network, a new indigenous social order based on class distinction developed and the move away from the long-established Central Cattle Pattern was completed. The social order became stratified into an upper and lower class that restructured the kingship pattern and gave the upper class economic and political power. The capital moved to Mapungubwe hill where, between AD 1220 and 1300, the elite lived on the hilltop and commoners lived below on the flat lands around the hill. Architectural features in the form of dry stone walling and differentiation in the placement of elite and commoner living spaces emphasised the new social orders.
(v) Is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement and land-use pattern which is representative of a culture or human interaction with the environment that became vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
The remains in the Mapungubwe cultural landscape graphically illustrate the impact of climate change and record the growth and then decline of the kingdom of Mapungubwe as a clear record of a culture that became vulnerable to irreversible change.
The nominated area lies within the proposed Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) which is centred around the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers that straddle the international boundaries of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The GMTFCA is an area rich in cultural and historical resources, the anchor of which is the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape. The earliest archaeological sites date back more than a million years with evidence of Earlier Stone Age tools made by ancestors of modern humans based on research from the 1930s and the present. Artifacts of animal origin such as beads made from ostrich eggshell, large land snails, bone and ivory as well as bracelets of which are still collected from old burial sites in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe confirming the research of the existence of a large cultural landscape. The nominated area has little interference from humans in terms of intensive economic activities hence the stratigraphy bearing archaeological materials remains intact.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is managed jointly by the governments of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. There is an Integrated Development Plan which was formulated in February- March 2010 to address the spatial planning of the GMTFCA by spatially representing the concept development plans required to unlock the inherent ecotourism potential of the conservation area in a sustainable and equitable manner. There is the Draft Tourism Management Plan of the GMTFCA which was established in November 2009 and outlines how Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape and surrounding environments will be utilized for tourism purposes to be accepted through a trilateral Ministerial Committee.
The Botswana government' s relevant legislations are the Wildlife and National Parks Act of 1992, Monuments and Relics Act of 2001 and the National Water Act. There is also the Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 2005. Zimbabwe government has Amended Parks and Wildlife Act of 1996, Environmental Management Act of 2002, Forest Act of 1948, Communal Land Forest Produce Act of 1928, etc and South Africa has among others the National Environmental Management Act of 1998, Protected Areas act of 2005, South African Heritage Act of 1999, Biodiversity Act of 2004. These legal instruments will ensure continued protection of the proposed area.
The Mapungubwe type landscape on the Botswana side has many heritage components similar to those of the South African Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site. The heritage is an extension of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape. Its inhabitants' culture shaped and laid the foundation for subsequent Southern African class-based societies and settlement patterns, including those at Great Zimbabwe and Khami in the present day Zimbabwe which are also on the World Heritage List. The heritage of Mapungubwe is comparable to Central America and the Near East in many ways even though Mapungubwe is relatively younger than them. The listing of the Botswana side will therefore compliment the South African Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site and ensure broader conservation scope for the heritage.