Some disturbing news has recently surfaced around one of South Africa’s eight Heritage Sites, The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape which lies on the open savannah of the Mapungubwe National Park.
The South African Department of Mineral Resources has awarded an Australian mining company called Coal of Africa (CoAL) unconditional new order mining rights for the Mapungubwe area.
A stakeholder group consisting of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Mapungubwe Action Group, the Office of the International Coordinator for the Greater Mapungubwe Trans-frontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA), the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists, World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa, BirdLife South Africa, the Wilderness Foundation South Africa and Peace Parks Foundation objects to all industrial activity in that part of the very sensitive Limpopo Valley without an approved Integrated Regional Development Plan. No replies by the relevant authorities have been received thus far.
Even before having obtained the necessary water license or any other kind of environmental approval, large-scale destruction is already underway on the bank of the Limpopo River, just a kilometre or two from Mapungubwe. CoAl has already cleared many hectares of indigenous forest in order to start building its controversial Vele coal mine on the bank of the Limpopo River.
Mapungubwe was home to an advanced culture of people. The civilization thrived as a sophisticated trading center from around 1200 to 1300 AD. It was the center of the largest kingdom in the sub-continent, where a highly sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India, Persia and Egypt. According to the archaeology department at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mapungubwe represents “the most complex (historical) society in southern Africa”.
Gold was mined in haematite at Ngwenya, and iron ore and copper at Phalaborwa. Virtually all the copper and tin deposits of the Northern Transvaal were worked, and hundreds of workings remain.
Although the University of Pretoria excavated the site when it was discovered in 1932 it was kept top secret. The findings provided evidence contrary to the racist ideology of black inferiority that underpinned apartheid. The apartheid regime remained tight lipped for more than 40 years. The evidence was only made public a few years after the first democratically elected government came into power in 1994.
The mine has the potential to bring all this to an end, threatening the World Heritage Site, the transfrontier conservation area and the tremendous tourism potential.
The presence of heavy industry in the area will impact enormously on its tourism and conservation, to such a degree that these activities will have to be reconsidered for the future. South Africa signed a binding document whereby it agreed to be a partner in a trilateral conservation development. By allowing that same conservation area to become part of an industrial area, it is not adhering to the spirit of that agreement.
To add insult to injury, the Order of Mapungubwe is South Africa’s highest honor that can only be granted by the president of South Africa, for achievements in the international arena, which have served South Africa’s interests. How can this honor maintain its prestige when the government that claims to hold it in high esteem is systematically destroying that proud heritage?