/ 8 July 2012

Unesco voices concern at Mapungubwe mining

Tourists at the Mapungubwe Koppie.
Tourists at the Mapungubwe Koppie.

The United Nations has voiced its concern over a coal mine adjacent to the Mapungubwe heritage site in Limpopo, the Sunday Independent reported.

Part of this ancient landscape is protected within the Mapungubwe National Park, which contains archaeological evidence of a sophisticated Iron Age trading kingdom, including palace sites and dependent settlement areas.

The UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (Unesco) has sent two missions to Mapungubwe to assess the impact of proposed large-scale coal mining in the area.

Open cast coal mining had resumed in Vele, with a limited version of the open pit that coal miner Coal of Africa planned once full production was reached, the paper reported. The Vele colliery is located on Limpopo's northern border.

"Yet, the visual impact of even this 'small' intrusion in the landscape is substantial," Unesco was quoted as saying.

The mine would not only destroy the cultural heritage which happened to be in its way, but also modify the cultural landscape. Unesco did not agree with a assessment which found the impact of mining at Vele would be minimal.

The site had "seriously deteriorated" and Mapungubwe risked being placed on the list of world heritage sites in danger, the paper reported.

Unesco recommended that the buffer zone around Mapungubwe be increased, and asked South Africa to submit information on Mapungubwe's boundaries by February next year. It wanted South Africa to ensure that mining activities did not affect the site's value.

The environmental affairs department reportedly said it would work with Unesco's world heritage committee.