The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park has exceptional natural beauty in its 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. The site’s diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants. This spectacular natural site also contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara, made by the San people over a period of 4,000 years. The rock paintings are outstanding in quality and diversity of subject and in their depiction of animals and human beings. They represent the spiritual life of the now extinct San people.
Statement of Significance
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.
Natural criteria (vii) and (x): 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. The site's diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially of birds and plants.
Ukhahlamba Park has outstanding aesthetic value. Soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts all contribute to a spectacular environment. It contains significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, and has outstanding species richness of plants. It is recognized as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism, and occurs within its own floristic region: the Drakensberg Alpine Region of South Africa. The rock art 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.
The park is the largest protected area on the Great Escarpment of the southern African subcontinent. It is located in an inland mountain along the eastern border of Lesotho. It comprises a northern and a significantly larger southern section. The mountainous area between these two sections, known as the Mnweni area, is tribal land. The park can be divided into two distinct physiographic regions: the foothills of 'Little Berg' are steep-sided spurs, escarpments and valleys occurring below 2,000 m in elevation, whereas the high main escarpment rises to over 3,400 m. There is considerable variation in topography, including vast basalt and sandstone cliffs, deep valleys, intervening spurs and extensive plateau areas. This topographical variation contributes to the outstanding scenic value. The Drakensberg is one of the best watered, least drought-prone areas of southern Africa, and has particular significance for catchments protection and the provision of high-quality water supplies for surrounding communities; a number of rivers originate from the park.
The geology of the Drakensberg is characterized by a thick sedimentary succession, capped by an accumulation of basalt, comprising the upper part of the Karoo Supergroup succession which has a composite thickness of up to 7,000 m in this area. The most distinctive physiographic feature of the Drakensberg foothills is the high cliffs formed of fine-grained sandstone comprising the Clarens Formation.
The vegetation in the park is influenced by topography and the effects of climate, soil, geology, slope, drainage and fire; it is attitudinally zoned, forming three belts coinciding with the main topographical features: the river valley system, the spurs and the summit plateau. These are the low-altitude belt with Podocarpus forest, the mid-altitude belt with fynbos (fine bush) vegetation and the high-altitude belt with alpine tundra and heath. Among a total of 2,153 species of plant are included a large number of internationally and nationally threatened species. A significant feature is the high level of plant species endemism. The park also includes significant grassland communities. The fauna includes a total of 48 mammal species, 296 bird species, 48 reptiles, 26 amphibians and 8 fish species. The invertebrate fauna is poorly known but includes many species endemic to the region. A number of globally threatened faunal species occur in this area, including the long-toed tree frog, the yellow-breasted pipit and the Natal Midlands dwarf chameleon.
The Drakensberg region is one of the most important archaeological areas in southern Africa. Archaeological sites from the early, middle and late Stone Ages and the late Iron Age indicate that human occupation in this mountain region may extend over the last million years. It was, however, the Neolithic settlers who arrived around 8000 BP that were the ancestors of the San. They were hunter-gatherers, often living in caves or rock-shelters. Paintings are to be found in diverse sites, ranging from large rock-shelters containing over 1,000 individual images to small rock overhangs with only a few paintings and the vertical sides of boulders strewn along the steep valley slopes. Many of them displayed painted scenes of hunting, dancing, fighting, food gathering, and ritual or trance scenes of hunting or rainmaking. Most of the human subjects were depicted naked, but the sex was indeterminate for most of them. Dressed figures were clad in a variety of garments, in some cases of European type. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The Drakensberg region is one of the most important archaeological areas in southern Africa. Archaeological sites from the Early, Middle, and Late Stones Ages and the Late Iron Age indicate that human occupation in this mountain region may extend over the last 1 million years.
The earliest recorded occupation of the Drakensberg Park is from the Mesolithic period, at least 20,000 BP (Note Early dates resulting from scientific dating techniques are expressed as "years BP" - ie years before the conventional date of 1950 on which all radiocarbon dating is based.) It was, however, the Neolithic settlers who arrived around 8000 years BP that were the ancestors of the San. They were hunter-gatherers, often living in caves or rock-shelters. There were probably never more than a thousand people living in the area of the modern Park, and so they left no traces on the landscape beyond their rock-art.
Iron Age farmers moved into the foothills to the east of the main escarpment in the 13th century CE, or perhaps a little earlier, bringing domesticated cattle and sheep into the region. By the late 16th century there were cattle-herding people, the Zizi to the north and the Tholo to the south, living in permanent settlements in areas adjacent to the northern and central Drakensberg region. At first their relationships with the San were peaceable, but from the early 19th century with the rise of Zulu power to the south, under the leadership of Shaka, successive waves of people were forced to migrate northwards into the Drakensberg.
Large areas in the foothills of the Drakensberg were settled by the Voortrekkers from 1837 onwards. They farmed cattle and later sheep on the good grazing lands until the 1930s, and also hunted the game animals of the region remorselessly, bringing them into conflict with the San. To protect their flocks and herds against San raids, the Natal Government settled Bantu-speaking farmers in order to seal off the San raiders. Punitive raids during the 1860s and 1870s led to the eventual destruction of the San communities, upsetting the balance that had existed for thousands of years between the indigenous people and their sustainable use of the natural resources of the region.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation