by Nombini Mehlomakulu


Heritage resources are defined in very general terms as any place or object of cultural significance. These include obvious things viewed as heritage by most people such as archaeological sites, old buildings and perhaps graves. However, it also includes more abstract things such as cultural landscapes, sacred sites and living heritage.


Heritage resources are found throughout the landscape—in cities, townships and villages, on farms, in forests and deserts, even coastlines and beneath the seas. Where they exist, they are invariably affected by natural and human forces that may, at times, enhance their significance or reduce or destroy them.

Within a developmental context, and especially mining development, the importance of managing environmental and social risks has gradually evolved to the point where it has become entrenched in law and best practice. Mines cannot obtain licences without first ensuring that these risks are identified and plans are put in place to manage risks. However, heritage resources and their management are not considered in the same manner, notwithstanding that they are, in most instances, protected under law.

To best illustrate the importance and value of heritage resources, the preamble to the South African National Heritage Resources Act, 1999 (Act No. 25 of 1999) is quoted below. The content closely reflects the current international view of heritage resources and their management as it aims to— Promote good management of the national estate, and to enable and encourage communities to nurture and conserve their legacy so that it may be bequeathed to future generations.

Unique and precious

Our heritage is unique and precious and it cannot be renewed. It helps us to define our cultural identity and, therefore, lies at the heart of our spiritual well-being and has the power to build our nation. It has the potential to affirm our diverse cultures and, in so doing, shape our national character.

Our heritage celebrates our achievements and contributes to redressing past inequities. It educates, it deepens our understanding of society and encourages us to empathise with the experience of others. It facilitates healing and material and symbolic restitution and it promotes new and previously neglected research into our rich oral traditions and customs. Some of the concepts contained in the preamble are worth discussing in more detail, especially in the context of mining.

Through encouraging communities to nurture and conserve their own legacies for future generations, it may be possible to enhance social benefits to communities affected by mining. Heritage is fundamental to the identity of individuals, groups, communities and societies. Where it is ignored or mismanaged, it very often results in complex and severe social repercussions. Heritage resources, especially tangible ones, are unique, finite and, generally, irreplaceable. The utmost care must, therefore, be taken to conserve heritage resources as far as possible.

Heritage resources

Managing heritage resources with and through communities could, via careful consideration and planning, enable long-term, sustainable alternative solutions to the legal and social responsibilities that mining companies have towards society. Heritage resources management may, for instance, be identified as a feasible component of Social and Labour Plans. Communities can be provided with opportunities to identify with and take ownership of a diverse range of heritage resources.

Should they be encouraged to conserve and develop these, there is a real potential for sustainable economic development that does not rely on mining-related projects. Heritage Month is celebrated during September in South Africa. This may be the ideal time to challenge the South African mining sector to reflect on its own very significant heritage, and how it can contribute to the national heritage.

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Issue 413


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