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Decision 41 COM 8B.12
ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape (South Africa)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/17/41.COM/8B and WHC/17/41.COM/INF.8B1,
  2. Inscribes the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (v) and (vi);
  3. Takes note of the following provisional statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

Brief synthesis:

The ǂKhomani and related San people are unique in that they descend directly from an ancient population that existed in the southern African region some 150,000 years ago, the ancestors of the entire human race. The red dunes of the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape are strongly associated with this unique culture stretching from the Stone Age to the present, a landscape that has changed little from a time long ago when all humans were hunter gatherers.

The remarkable in situ biological, if not broad cultural continuity, renders the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape a unique and outstanding associative cultural landscape. The ǂKhomani are a living example of the unique technology and way of life that the San have developed to survive in this desert landscape. The ǂKhomani did not make rock art because there are no suitable rock formations in their territory, yet their culture represents a living link to the magnificent artistic legacy of the San in southern Africa. The expulsion of the ǂKhomani in 1931, from what became the KGNP, their diaspora, and life on commercial farms, led to large-scale language and other cultural losses. Yet, the success of their land claims have enabled them to return and to take steps to preserve what remains of their language and living culture. Of enormous significance is the survival of the last speakers of the !Ui-Taa languages in the ǂKhomani community. The ǂKhomani are actively reclaiming cultural knowledge, practices and traditions, bringing to life a rich associative landscape. The ethos of living softly on the land and seeing themselves as part of nature, in a landscape where there is a respectful relationship between humans, plants and animals, links them to this land in a unique way that epitomises sustainability.

Criterion (v): The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is uniquely expressive of the hunting and gathering way of life practised by the ancestors of all modern human beings; so are the simple, yet highly sophisticated technologies which they used to exploit scarce resources such as water, find plant foods in an extremely hostile environment, and deal with natural phenomena such as drought and predators.

Criterion (vi): Of enormous significance is the survival of the last speakers of the !Ui-Taa languages in the ǂKhomani community. Their ethnobotanical knowledge and memories of a virtually extinct way of life and beliefs can be linked directly with the vast archival records of the closely related |Xam further to the south, and the even vaster southern African treasure house of Bushman rock art.


As an associated landscape, the Nominated Property compromising the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is a vast area on the South African side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP), which is large enough to accommodate a reasonably complete representation of the landscape values, features and processes which convey the special way in which the people were linked with the land. It is also sufficiently large to accommodate the tangible elements of landscape and culture, such as the wide and open dunes, examples of Bushman architecture and the ‘lightness’ of being in the desert. The archaeological sites in the dunes remain largely intact and the names of important places have been recorded and mapped. More vulnerable are the languages spoken by the ‡Khomani, which are being promoted through joint activities between the community and supportive Non- Governmental Organisations (NGO). In the areas outside the Nominated Property there are a number of settlements and sites that play a role in the cultural memory of the ǂKhomani and its diaspora.

Residential development, commercial farming and the state-run National Park have changed the cultural landscape over the past century, resulting in severe disruptions of the living traditions of the ǂKhomani San and related families. However, links to the landscape persist and are being re-established since the land claim success. The South African San Institute (SASI) and other institutions have been working with the ǂKhomani to record knowledge systems, language, and oral history through stories. The Imbewu bush camp is situated deep in the dunes of the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park which lies in the southern part of the KGNP and belongs to the ǂKhomani and Mier communities. Here the tradition of ‘veldskool’ (meaning ‘field or bush school’) is regularly practised, affording young people from the community the opportunity to learn from the elders about the plants, animals, and ecological interrelationships as well as the spiritual world.

The nominated property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) is enhanced through its association with the wider territory over which the ǂKhomani families migrated on a seasonal basis, and shared with the !Kung in the south of Botswana.


A core group of ǂKhomani San who consider themselves “traditionalists” have retained strong cultural links with their land, which they are now transferring to the younger generation. The persistence and simultaneous vulnerability of ǂKhomani culture is also reflected by the persistence of linguistic memory, supported now by NGOs and academics who are documenting language and culture in accessible ways. The proposed Nominated Property of the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is wholly protected within a National Park. The ǂKhomani have regained symbolic and cultural rights to that land, including resource use and traditional hunting rights in a large part of the park. This helps to ensure the authenticity of the ǂKhomani’s cultural renaissance and ensures that it would not become a “museum culture”. An important element of this is the wider ecological and ultimately even social connectivity made possible by the KTP, including the revival of old social networks to communities in Botswana. However, while some feel that ǂKhomani identity, knowledge and practices have been “thoroughly hybridised” (Robins 1999; Robins 2001; Sharp 1996) and ǂKhomani identity cannot be described as archetypally “ancient”, local community members contend that ‘even though I do not wear skins and carry a bow and arrows, does not mean that I am not ‘boesman’ (bushman). The ǂKhomani will not revert to a “genuine” transhumant hunter-gatherer existence. Yet, the continued existence of Bush craft and tracking skills, the persistence of cultural practices like dancing, healing, singing and storytelling, cannot be denied, neither can the indefinable spirit of “Boesman wees” (‘being a Bushman’), a very particular perspective on the world and one’s place in it. Authenticity is further enhanced through the wider context of the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape as part of the broader |Xam and ǂKhomani Heartland Cultural Landscape. This links the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape with the undeniably authentic archaeological and written records of the |Xam. Note: Evidentiary data and elaboration of the basis for OUV, the Justification for Criteria, the Statement of Integrity, and the Statement of Authenticity are presented in Appendices 2 – 6.

Protection and management requirements

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape falls wholly inside the KGNP of which it forms the overriding cultural component, the Kalahari being a place that has almost become synonymous with the San. The overarching management framework of the Park provides a well-entrenched set of legal mechanisms relating to heritage, conservation and environmental protection that applies to all National Parks in South Africa, and which is currently being strengthened by a new initiative under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Affairs. The KGNP Management Plan is currently under review and the provisions there-in for cultural heritage will be in compliance with the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage to which South Africa is a signatory. The protection of cultural heritage is further dealt with in the Integrated Development Plan of the KTP and the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park management plans (hereafter simply referred as the ‘Heritage Park’), which falls wholly inside the KGNP. The KGNP, acting in collaboration with the Joint Management Board of the Heritage Park and a number of NGOs, provides the necessary institutional capacity needed for the protection of the WHS. A government initiative, in which NGOs are also participating, is underway to strengthen the ǂKhomani San Communal Property Association (CPA). Another pre-requisite which relates to the Johannesburg Declaration on World Heritage in Africa and Sustainable Development of 2002, and the UNESCO Action Plan 2012-2017 for the Africa Region, is the improvement of the social and economic development of the ǂKhomani as a community that should benefit directly from the World Heritage Site (WHS). Socio-economic development is a slow process, but a start has already been made and there have been many improvements in the welfare of the local community over the last two decades. Improved conditions will also make it easier for its members to focus energies on the protection and promotion of intangible heritage elements that contribute to the OUV of the WHS. The !Xaus community game lodge operations already generates moderate resources for investment in community development projects (or further businesses) and this will undoubtedly be supported by inscription of the proposed area as a WHS. The growing benefits to the local communities in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a WHS in South Africa, are well known. The property management is guided by various management plans (Appendix 8). The management plans of the Heritage Park and the KGNP will guide appropriate tourism development within the property. On the Botswana side, the WHS is flanked entirely by the Gemsbok National Park, which also forms the Botswana component of the KTP. Beyond the borders of the KGNP on the South African side there is communal land of the Mier community and private farms. It is envisaged that any development there would require consultation to ensure that no negative impact on the OUV. However, a variety of development frameworks can be used to ensure that principles compatible with World Heritage Sites guide development in the region. These frameworks typically include the municipal (local and district level) IDP, the EMF and the SDF that are government requirements under different sets of legislation (Appendix 9). The property will not have a separate management plan from the KGNP; instead, it is believed that the management plan of the KGNP makes adequate provision for the protection of the OUV and the integrity and authenticity of the property. Through the use of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes, as well as stringent Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA criteria, under South African law, the development of tourism related facilities and amenities within, and adjacent to, the property, will not have negative impacts on the OUVs of the proposed WHS. The management plan of the KGNP should further prevent any potential impacts by tourists.

Decision Code
41 COM 8B.12
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
States Parties 1
Decisions adopted during the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee (Krakow, 2017)
Context of Decision