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Committee Decisions

37 COM 8B.18

Maloti-Drakensberg Park (Lesotho/South Africa)

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Documents WHC-13/37.COM/8B, WHC-13/37.COM/INF.8B1 and WHC-13/37.COM/INF.8B2 ,

2.  Approves the extension of uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park, South Africa , to include Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho, to become the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, Lesotho/South Africa , on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (i), (iii), (vii) and (x) ;

3.  Adopts the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

Brief synthesis

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is renowned for its spectacular natural landscape, importance as a haven for many threatened and endemic species, and for its wealth of rock paintings made by the San people over a period of 4000 years. The Park, located in the Drakensberg Mountains, covers an area of 242,813 ha making it the largest protected area along the Great Escarpment of southern Africa.

With its pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges, the property has numerous caves and rock shelters containing an estimated 600 rock art sites, and the number of individual images in those sites probably exceeds 35,000. The images depict animals and human beings, and represent the spiritual life of this people, now no longer living in their original homeland. This art represents an exceptionally coherent tradition that embodies the beliefs and cosmology of the San people over several millennia. There are also paintings done during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attributable to Bantu speaking people.

Extending along most of KwaZulu-Natal’s south-western border with Lesotho, the property provides a vital refuge for more than 250 endemic plant species and their associated fauna. It also holds almost all of the remaining subalpine and alpine vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal, including extensive high altitude wetlands above 2,750m and is a RAMSAR site. The Park has been identified as an Important Bird Area, and forms a critical part of the Lesotho Highlands Endemic Bird Area.

Criterion (i): The rock art of the Drakensberg is the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara and is outstanding both in quality and diversity of subject.

Criterion (iii): The San people lived in the mountainous Drakensberg area for more than four millennia, leaving behind them a corpus of outstanding rock art, which throws much light on their way of life and their beliefs.

Criterion (vii): The site has exceptional natural beauty with soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. Rolling high altitude grasslands, the pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges also contribute to the beauty of the site.

Criterion (x): The property contains significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity. It has outstanding species richness, particularly of plants. It is recognised as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism, and occurs within its own floristic region – the Drakensberg Alpine Region of South Africa. It is also within a globally important endemic bird area and is notable for the occurrence of a number of globally threatened species, such as the Yellow-breasted Pipit. The diversity of habitats is outstanding, ranging across alpine plateaux, steep rocky slopes and river valleys. These habitats protect a high level of endemic and threatened species.

Integrity

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, composed of 12 protected areas established between 1903 and 1973 has a long history of effective conservation management. Covering 242,813 ha in area, it is large enough to survive as a natural area and to maintain natural values. It includes 4 proclaimed Wilderness areas almost 50% of the Park, while largely unaffected by human development, the property remains vulnerable to external land uses including agriculture, plantation forestry and ecotourism, although agreements between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and local stakeholders have been implemented to manage these threats.

Invasive species and fire also threaten the integrity of the site, along with land claims in certain areas, infrastructural developments, soil erosion caused by fire and tourist impacts on vulnerable alpine trails, and poaching. The lack of formal protection of the mountain ecosystem over the border in Lesotho exacerbates these threats.

Boundary issues highlighted at time of inscription included the gap belonging to the amaNgwane and amaZizi Traditional Council between the northern and much larger southern section of the Park. While planning mechanisms restrict development above the 1,650m contour to maintain ecological integrity, it was recommended that a cooperative agreement between the amaNgwane and amaZizi Traditional Council and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife be envisaged. Extending conservation areas by agreements with privately-owned land along the escarpment to the south of the property was also recommended. Finally an important step to strengthening integrity has been the development of the Drakensberg Maloti Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area, which has recognised the importance of a Transboundary Peace Park linking the Sehlabathebe National Park (and eventually the contiguous Sehlabathebe and Mohotlong Range Management Areas) in Lesotho with uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Project Coordinating Committees in both KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho are cooperating in a planning process.

The property contains the main corpus of rock art related to the San in this area. Although the area has changed relatively little since the caves were inhabited, management practices, the removal of trees (which formerly sheltered the paintings) and the smoke from burning grass both have the capacity to impact adversely on the fragile images of the rock shelters, as does unregulated public access.

Authenticity

The authenticity of the paintings, and their shelter and cave settings, as a reflection of the beliefs of the San peoples, are without question. The images are however vulnerable to fading that could lessen their ability to display their meaning.

Protection and management requirements

Management of the Park is guided by an Integrated Management Plan with subsidiary plans, and is undertaken in accordance with the World Heritage Convention Act, 1999 (Act No. 49 of 1999); National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (Act 57 of 2003); National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No 10 of 2004); KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Amendment Act (No 5 of 1999); World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines ; and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife policies. In terms of these legislation, all development within or outside the property is subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment, which considers the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. In addition all World Heritage Sites are recognized as protected areas, meaning that mining or prospecting will be completely prohibited from taking place within the property or the proclaimed buffer zone.  Furthermore, any unsuitable development with a potential impact on the property will not be permitted by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs who is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention .

Invasive species and fire are major management challenges. At the time of inscription 1% of the property was covered with alien vegetation, including existing plantations and wattle infestations. This poses a threat to the ecological integrity of the Park as well as to the yield of water from its wetlands and river systems. Park management is actively addressing the removal of alien species. The interaction between the management of invasive species and the management of fire should also be carefully considered, taking into account the effects of fire on fire-sensitive fauna such as endemic frogs.  Management of fire and invasive species needs to be addressed jointly by Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal, ideally within the framework established for transboundary protected area cooperation.

There is a need to ensure an equitable balance between the management of nature and culture through incorporating adequate cultural heritage expertise into the management of the Park, in order to ensure that land management processes respect the paintings, that satisfactory natural shelter is provided to the rock art sites, that monitoring of the rock art images is conducted on a regular basis by appropriately qualified conservators, and that access to the paintings is adequately regulated. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that Cultural Heritage Impact Assessments are undertaken in conjunction with Environmental Impact Assessments for any proposed development affecting the setting within the property.

4.  Requests the State Party to:

a)  Conduct further research on rock art on the basis of the ARAL (Analysis of Rock Art in Lesotho) project findings, in Sehlabathebe National Park and its surroundings to  add on the existing inventory;

b)  Include in this inventory the state of conservation of the documented rock art sites;

c)  Study the potential cultural contribution of landscape elements, such as rock pools, in Sehlabathebe as part of on-going research;

d)  Designate on the basis of the revised inventory and the research, the most significant rock art sites as national historic sites through public gazetting;

e)  Collaborate with the State Party of South Africa, to update the existing cultural heritage management plan to include a risk preparedness and a disaster response plan;

f)   Further build capacity through the training of staff of the Sehlabathebe management base and the Department of Culture in the documentation and conservation of rock art, provide significantly enhanced qualified staff within Sehlabathebe National Park;

g)  Allocate a specific and adequate annual budget to allow for medium-term planning in conservation, inventorying and monitoring.

5.  Recommends that the State Party give consideration to:

a)  Submitting an International Assistance request for strengthening of heritage management;

b)  Ensure that oral history is included in the research priorities of the park and Maloti Drakensberg Transboundary Park in order to enhance interpretation of San rock art;

c)  Continuing a cautious approach towards conservation interventions on rock art sites and restrict such interventions to exceptional cases where rock art would otherwise become very fragile and vulnerable;

d)  Improving the presentation of cultural aspects and in particular the rock art sites within the Environmental Centre;

e)  Continuing the involvement of the local communities in the buffer zone and assisting them in establishing small-scale visitor services to generate direct revenues for the community;

6.  Also requests the State Party to carefully consider any proposed development of wind farms in areas neighbouring the Sehlabathebe National Park and to ensure that such developments do not adversely impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the transboundary site in particular on populations of Bearded Vultures and Cape Vultures in the Lesotho Highlands and the surrounding escarpment of South Africa;

7.  Further requests the States Parties to:

a)  Finalize revisions, amendments and enactment of relevant laws pertinent to the property, in particular to approve and enact the draft Nature Conservation Act 2005 in Lesotho;

b)  Update the current Sehlabathebe National Park and joint Sehlabathebe National Park/ uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park management and business plans which expire by 2013 and to ensure they provide for enhanced cooperation and joint management of both natural and cultural World Heritage values;

c)  Formalize the buffer zones surrounding the property and continue their cooperative attempts towards providing a buffer zone to the south of Sehlabathebe located in the territory of South Africa;

d)  Strengthen transnational collaboration to share technical capacity and ensure improved management capacity within Sehlabathebe National Park;

8.  Congratulates both States Parties on their cooperation in the nomination of the extension to create a new transboundary World Heritage property, and their collaborative approach to protect and manage the property to the highest international standards, and continue collaborating with the Advisory Bodies to improve the management plan of the property;

9.  Requests furthermore the State Parties to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015 , a report on the state of conservation of the property, including a report on the progress made in the implementation of the above recommendations, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015. 

Themes: Inscriptions on the World Heritage List, Outstanding Universal Value
States Parties: Lesotho South Africa
Session: 37COM