The Vredefort Dome, spanning the Free State and the North West provinces, has been declared a World Heritage Site, the Department of Arts and Culture said on Thursday.
The department said the site is the country’s seventh World Heritage Site.
This decision was made earlier in the day at the 29th World Heritage Committee meeting being held in Durban.
The status is awarded to designated sites deemed to be of outstanding universal value.
Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan welcomed the decision.
”The awarding of the status is a proud moment for South Africa. The next step is to establish management structures, and comply with requirements of the Unesco [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation] Convention,” he said.
”The Vredefort site is rich in the symbolic representation of our culture and it demonstrates the meeting between scientific and cultural philosophy and practice.”
The Vredefort Dome is the oldest and largest meteorite impact site in the world.
It was formed an estimated two billion years ago when a giant meteorite hit the Earth close to where Vredefort is today.
”At Vredefort, opportunities exist to engage in geological research and explore and understand more sensitively the rich culture of the Basotho, Batswana and Khoi-San and the early evidence of human cognitive and artistic endeavour their cultures boast,” said Jordan.
”This demonstrates that heritage can be a tool for nation-building and that this tangible site and the intangible aspects raised above should be preserved for posterity; in fact, for our survival as a human race.
Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk has also pointed to the rich natural diversity of the site.
”With over 100 different plant species, more than 300 types of birds, over 70 butterfly species and a variety of small mammals, the site adds real biodiversity value to our goal of expanding the areas under conservation in our country,” he said.
The economic and tourism potential of the inscription is also a priority for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
With this in mind, the department has allocated R18-million from its poverty-relief programme for tourism and infrastructural development of the Vredefort Dome site.
These funds will be used for the eradication of alien invasive vegetation, hiking trails and the construction of a tourism centre, said Van Schalkwyk.
The head of the Free State department of tourism and environmental affairs, Thabo Khunyeli, also welcomed the announcement.
”We commit ourselves as provincial government to draw other stakeholders to participate in the further development of the area,” he said.
Khunyeli said it is important to raise awareness of the site, solicit funds, improve the protection and management of the site and encourage responsible tourism.
”We will use the site to the benefit of the Free State people. Indeed, the inscription would strengthen the competitive advantage of the province and optimise tourism opportunities.”
Khunyeli said the provincial government will work with the affected municipality in taking full advantage of the economic potential for the establishment and expansion of small, medium and micro businesses.
South Africa’s application for the extension of the fossil hominid sites of Sterkfontein to include Mokapane’s Valley and the Taung Skull fossil site will be discussed on Friday. — Sapa