The joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN mission to Vredefort Dome was carried out from 28 April to 3 May 2008 in accordance with the World Heritage Committee decision 29 COM 8B.4, and included a review of progress towards the special management and collaboration with the landowners to ensure the integrity of the property; clear definition of the legal boundaries for the three satellite component sites of this serial property and implementation of the management plan for the property with the support of the key stakeholders. The following issues were identified by the mission:
a) Proclamation under National Legislation
To date the Vredefort Dome Site has not been proclaimed under the World Heritage Convention Act of South Africa, although a “Notice of Intent” was published in December, 2007. A number of land owners have raised written objections to the Proclamation claiming lack of sufficient awareness and consultations, and have threatened legal action which may delay the Proclamation.
Under the same legislation, the boundaries of the property, including the buffer and core zones must be physically demarcated on the ground. It is also noted that there may be scope to harmonize the buffer zone boundary better with the boundaries of the private landowners, as this would simplify the management of the property. This process should be carried out in consultation with the relevant landowners.
b) Land owners
Resolution of the concerns of landowners is critical to the successful management of the property. A number of landowners have recorded their appreciation of the World Heritage designation and have made progress with promotional activities and compatible land use practices such as establishment of nature based conservancies and Game Farms. However, there are a number of landowners who formally registered objections to their land being proclaimed under national legislation and some have noted that they do not have sufficient information on the property, and their roles and responsibilities. The Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT) and the local Municipalities lack accurate and up to date data on landownership within the Dome.
c) Inadequate Site Management
The National World Heritage Site Management Authority has replaced the Vredefort Dome Inter-Provincial Task Team under the Vredefort Dome Steering Committee as the recognized institution under the World Heritage Convention Act of South Africa, even while the proclamation is pending. However, currently there is no operational management unit with sufficient capacity to implement and enforce regulations to ensure protection of the property.
The site management authority for the Vredefort Dome (WHSMA) has not been established nor staffed yet. The lack of a functional unit on site has resulted in a number of uncontrolled activities taking place within the property. Lack of monitoring and enforcement of adverse aspects such as pollution, vandalism is a result of this weakness.
Lack of a physical presence of a Management Unit is a major cause of poor communication and awareness, which is the case of many landowners.
d) Degradation of the property
Inspection of the Vaal River and the sewage treatment works in the town of Parys showed high levels of untreated and semi treated sewage being released into the river. While the impact of this current level of pollution on the geological integrity of the property is not known and may be negligible, the effect on its potential for tourism and education, and therefore the integrity of the property will be compromised. The Municipality officials have admitted to this fact and presented a case on the need for substantial overhaul of the system and equipment. It does not appear that this improvement will take place soon given their limited financial and personnel capacity. Industrial and urban pollutants released upstream also affect the integrity of the property.
Ground water, which is the sole source of water for both domestic and agricultural use, has been over utilized as indicated by abandoned homes and some dry boreholes. The mission team was also informed that several boreholes have been polluted by leaks from sanitation systems. In view of the critical issue of water and sanitation at the property, there is a need to undertake: (a) proper pollution source inventory and quality monitoring system; (b) geological survey of the property as a priority for water management plan in view of current poor quality water entering the Vaal River drainage system; (c) an inventory of water quality and groundwater table levels in boreholes in the property in order to improve knowledge of the aquifer system and management in terms of any future expansion of the tourism infrastructure and (d) effluent from Parys and Vredefort sewerage treatment plants needs to be monitored and corrective measures taken.
The mission team received information about a project planned by the South African Government to address all sources of pollution in the Vaal River. However, details and the time frame for this project were unclear.
A number of abandoned or unsuccessful maize farms are turning to alternative agricultural practices. Pecan nut cultivation has been introduced on some of the farms visited and seen from the air within the property. This is a long term and irrigation intensive form of agriculture but with high value. The impact of large scale conversion of the farms within the Dome core area is unknown and given the substantial water and fertilizer requirements of the practice, the effects are likely to be negative.
Veld fires are a major threat to the property. The only fire department located in Parys Town is not equipped to provide the necessary rapid response in the event of fire.
Wildlife poaching is a threat in the property considering the high value of wild meat in the area. Regarding theft and vandalism reported at the time of inscription, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN mission was informed that a study has been commissioned to identify the sensitive areas for protection. It is neither clear who commissioned the study nor who will implement its findings.
In the absence of the formal proclamation of the property as well as agreements for responsible conduct by the landowners within the property, there is evidence of unplanned tourism and recreational development which has not been approved nor advised by the management authority. Unregulated construction of lodges and camps along the river and other areas of the Dome core have the potential to damage the integrity of the property from increased human traffic and associated impacts. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore recommend that the State Party ensures the application of relevant environmental laws for all new development projects. In addition, development within the property should not impact the outstanding universal value or integrity of the property. Furthermore, all new constructions, since the inscription of the property, should be reviewed and modified to comply with relevant legislation.