The World Heritage Committee expressed its concern about the issuance of a prospecting mining licence for a considerable part of the property and its buffer zone to Bushmanland Minerals and requested that a joint World Heritage Centre/ ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission be invited to assess the state of conservation and the implementation of the decision adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008).
The State Party provided a report on the state of conservation of the propertyon 29 January 2009, responding to the issues raised in Decision 32 COM 7B.52, and was reviewed by the mission team, from 2 to 6 March 2009.
a) Prospecting mineral license
The State Party indicates that in spite of the existing prospecting licence, the National Environment Management: Protected Areas Act no. 57 and the South Africa World Heritage Convention Act 1999 preclude the possibility of carrying out prospecting activities at the property, even with a valid licence. The mission verified this situation and commends the State Party for the initiative taken to minimize and possibly eliminate a repetition of such situation involving mining in World Heritage properties, including through the compilation of a comprehensive database by the Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT), which will be availed to the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME).
Discussions have been continued between the DME and Bushmanland Minerals, which has agreed to remit its permit for both the property and the buffer zone, on the condition that the State Party pays compensation for expenses incurred in the early prospecting stages. The mission noted that the process for cancelling the permit needs to be expedited to ensure the final resolution on the matter and address a situation that is frustrating all the stakeholders.
b) Boundary, human use and management issues
The State Party reports that discussion on boundaries were initiated with the Sida !Hub Communal Property Association (CPA, landowner) and other stakeholders in the Richtersveld and an agreement was reached on boundaries for the buffer zone, in particular the so-called ‘Communal Buffer Zone’. The proposed revision would reduce the Communal Buffer Zone “to an area of more logical dimension than at present”.
The mission noted that this reduction of the buffer zone would go against all recommendations for the property, both in the ICOMOS Evaluation of the nomination and in Decision 31 COM 8B.20. The mission informed the State Party about the procedures to follow in case they wished to proceed with this reduction. It also recalled the State Party’s consideration for the natural values of this area in 2006 and discussed with a variety of stakeholders the reasons for this reduction. CPA representatives expressed their concern about the prejudice on their pastoral and other rights by being included in the buffer zone, an issue that was clarified by mission members who also stressed that grazing and transhumance was at the heart of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and that adequate consideration of the cultural landscape and its cultural traditions relies heavily on the community of graziers that actively sustain the relationship between the people and the environment. In fact, the ideal extension to include the Richtersveld National Park would in fact contribute to support the traditional management arrangements to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the cultural landscape. In the resultant discussions during the mission, there was unanimous consensus in support of maintaining the current buffer zone as it stands, rather than reducing it, and looking into increasing the property to include, at an appropriate time, the Richtersveld National Park.
The mission also noted that existing diamond mining activities, taking place in areas adjacent to the buffer zone, could have a significant impact if not mitigated.
In regard to human use and management, the State Party reports that the management plan is currently being revised to strengthen provisions pertaining to tourism and the management of the cultural aspects of the property. Two participatory workshops and several consultations have taken place and an advanced draft of the plan was provided to the mission team. The community-driven and traditional management system, and the multisectorial arrangements currently in place that promote its effectiveness, should be particularly noted and welcomed as a model for other cultural landscapes.
In addition to the response to specific issues raised in Decision 32 COM 7B.52, the State Party also noted factors that could threaten the property including desertification, overgrazing and plant poaching. In regard to desertification, reports by transhumant stock farmers indicate that the time period for the recovery of plants from grazing has increased and that precipitation has diminished. The information needs to be verified with scientific studies and to determine the extent of the problem. As for overgrazing, Global Environment Facility (GEF)/World Bank-funded study has identified signs of overgrazing at some parts of the property, mainly near water points, although the reasons for this effect have yet to be clarified. As a response, a grazing management plan is being developed and completion is foreseen in March 2009. Plant poaching has been identified as an issue that needs to be studied and addressed in the integrated management plan. Additional staffing is also considered to mitigate the problem.
Finally, in accordance to Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, the State Party reports on activities implemented on infrastructure at the property, including the upgrading and repairs of existing roads, the upgrading of five existing campsites and the establishment of five low-impact additional ones to eliminate ad hoc camping, the definition of a guided hiking trail and a construction of three traditional matjies houses and a cooking screen for meals as a traditional Nama village just outside Eksteenfontein. The State Party also reports that ”The Feasibility of Conservation based Economic Opportunities in the Richtersveld World Heritage Site” study has been completed and will be an important tool to inform future plans for development of the property.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note with satisfaction that the State Party has confirmed that the National Environment Management Act and the South Africa World Heritage Convention Act 1999 prevent any mining activities to take place within World Heritage properties and note that this is in line with the International Council for Minerals and Metals (ICMM) “No-go” commitment. They further note that the State Party has reached an agreement with DME and Bushmanland Minerals to withdraw their prospecting permit. It is also noted that there are existing mining activities adjacent to the property which could have a negative impact if not mitigated. There is a need for an assessment of the impact of these mining activities on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.