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National Heritage Resources

The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered by a Bedouin shepherd when he fell into a cave not far from the Dead Sea, in 1946. Given their immeasurable importance,1 it is inconceivable that they were, shortly afterwards, sold for the equivalent of R370.2

The Republic does not, most probably, having lurking somewhere in her natural archives a heritage resource of this enormity.3 But our heritage is unique, and precious, and it cannot ever be renewed. A national heritage helps define the cultural identity of a country, and lies at the heart of the collective spiritual well-being. And – more importantly, perhaps, in our case – it has the power to build the nation, affirm our diverse cultures, and in so doing shape our national character.

The National Heritage Resources Act 19994 recognises this, and makes provision for an integrated and interactive system for the management, nurturing and conservation of our heritage resources. It falls under the authority of the Minister of Arts and Culture, but is administered, effectively, by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA)5 – which, in turn, has a Council6 to perform all the tasks and functions set by the Act.

The Act talks of the ‘national estate’, and this can mean those heritage resources of South Africa which are of cultural significance, or other special value for the present community and for future generations. It includes:

  • places, buildings, structures and equipment of cultural significance;
  • places to which oral traditions are attached;
  • places which are associated with living heritage;
  • historical settlements and townscapes;
  • landscapes and natural features of cultural significance;
  • geological sites of scientific or cultural importance;
  • archaeological and paleontological sites;
  • graves and burial grounds; and
  • sites of significance relating to the history of slavery in South Africa.

As well as places and sites, the ‘national estate’ includes objects such as:

  • objects recovered from the soil or waters of South Africa;
  • meteorites and rare geological specimens;
  • objects to which oral traditions are attached;
  • objects which are associated with living heritage;
  • ethnographic art and objects;
  • military objects;
  • objects of decorative or fine art;
  • objects of scientific or technological interest; and
  • books, records, documents, photographic positives and negatives, graphic, film or video material or sound recordings.

A. Heritage sites

Both SAHRA and the provincial heritage authorities can declare places as ‘heritage sites’ – examples are the Voortrekker Monument, Robben Island, the grave of Mr Oliver Tambo, the SAS Pietermaritzburg shipwreck (near Simons Town), Freedom Park, and many others.7

  1. It is a crime to destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove, subdivide, or change the planning status of any heritage site (even if it is only provisionally declared a heritage site) without a permit from the responsible heritage resource authority.8 9

  2. The authority may (by agreement with the owner) erect signage on or near, and construct fences, walls or gates on or around a heritage site. It is an offence to damage any such signage or construction.10

  3. And now here’s a thing. All rights to reproduce a heritage site, whether in two dimensional form (i.e. photograph it, make a painting of it, etc.) or three dimensional form, belong to the State. These rights vest in the authority responsible for the protection of the site. It is an offence to make such reproduction, for profit, without a permit from the authority.11

B. Heritage objects

  1. SAHRA maintains a register of objects which lists all declared heritage objects.12 It includes articles such as:13
    • the Hill Organ, at the Methodist Church, Grahamstown;
    • the University of Fort Hare Collections, at the University of Fort Hare, Alice;
    • the Kruger Chairs, at the Reformed Church, Church Street West Pretoria;
    • the Brandy still, at Schoonderzicht, Tulbagh District;
    • the Voortrekker pulpit, in the Voortrekker Church, Pietermaritzburg;
    • ten Harvard Aircrafts, at the Heidelberg Airfield, Gauteng;
    • the collection of cultural artefacts including the gold rhino, bowl and sceptre, associated with the Iron Age settlements on Mapungubwe Hill;
    • the Ethnographic and Art Collections at the University of Fort Hare, Alice;
    • Kirby Collection of Musical Instruments, UCT, Cape Town.
  2. It is a criminal offence to destroy, damage, disfigure or alter any declared heritage object, without a permit issued by SAHRA.14

  3. Collections, such as objects listed in the inventory of a public museum, are also in the register. It is a crime to disperse any such collection without a permit.15

  4. Any person who exports (or attempts to export) any heritage object without a permit commits a crime.16

  5. South Africa can be a signatory to agreements with foreign states relating to the prevention of illegal trade in cultural property. Where such agreement is in place,17 it is a crime to import into South Africa any foreign cultural property that has been exported illegally from that foreign state.18

  6. It is an offence to import into South Africa any foreign cultural property other than through a customs port of entry. (And this means through the ‘red route’, because you must declare it, and produce the permit from the foreign country.)19

  7. If you are the owner or custodian of a specific heritage object (in other words, not those referenced in the register just by their type, but specific ones) you are obliged, by the Act, to keep it in good condition and also in a secure place. If you do not do so, you are guilty of a crime.20

  8. It is an offence to restore or repair any one of the specific heritage objects without a permit.21

  9. If any specified heritage object becomes lost, or damaged, its owner or custodian must immediately report that fact to SAHRA. It is a criminal offence not to do so.22

  10. It is an offence to remove a heritage object from South Africa other than through a customs port of entry. (Again, the object must be declared, and the export permit produced.)23

  11. No person may remove, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, sub-divide or change the status of planning of a provisionally protected place or object without a permit. Contravention of this provision is a crime.24

C. Archaeological and palaeontological objects, and meteorites

I would not have known, but there is a difference between an archaeological object and a palaeontological one. The former means something resulting from human activity – artefacts and rock art (both older than 100 years); wrecks, military features, structures and objects (older than 75 years); and human remains which are older than 100 years. Palaeontological means a fossilised trace or remains of any animal or plant from the geological past – so that means a very long time ago.25

  1. Any person who discovers archaeological or palaeontological objects or material, or a meteorite, must immediately report the find to the Authority, or to the nearest local authority offices or museum, and commits an offence by not doing so.26

  2. It is an offence to destroy, damage, excavate, alter, deface or otherwise disturb any archaeological or palaeontological site or object, or any meteorite, without a permit.27

  3. It is also an offence to remove from its original position or collect any archaeological or palaeontological material or object, or any meteorite, without a permit.28

  4. The Authority can issue a directive forbidding activities within a specified distance from a site, or meteorite. It is an offence to contravene the directive.29

  5. You may not even own, trade in, sell for private gain, export or attempt to export from the Republic any archaeological or palaeontological material or object, or any meteorite, without a permit.30

  6. Finally, it is a criminal offence to bring onto, or use at one of these sites any excavation equipment, or any equipment which assists in the detection or recovery of metals or objects, or use such equipment for the recovery of meteorites, without a permit.31

D. Burial grounds and graves

  1. It is an offence to destroy, damage, alter or remove from its original position, or otherwise disturb any burial ground (or part thereof) which contains the grave of a victim of conflict, without a permit.32

  2. It is a crime to exhume a victim of conflict from his grave without a permit.33

  3. No one may destroy, damage, alter, remove from its original position, or otherwise disturb any grave or burial ground situated outside a formal cemetery and older than 60 years, without a permit. It is an offence to do otherwise.34

  4. It is an offence to exhume the remains of a human which are more than 60 years old, without a permit.35

  5. It is an offence to bring onto, or use at a burial ground or grave, any excavation equipment, or any equipment which assists in the detection or recovery of metals, without a permit.36

E. Permits

  1. It is an offence to make any statement or representation knowing it to be false (or not believing it to be true) for the purpose of obtaining (whether for yourself or for any other person) any permit in terms of the Act.37

  2. It is an offence not to comply with the terms, conditions, restrictions or directions of any permit.38

  3. If you obstruct the holder of a permit who is exercising a right granted to him by means of such permit, it is an offence.39

F. Badges and signage

  1. It is a criminal offence to damage, take or remove (or cause to be damaged, taken or removed) any badge, sign, interpretive display or any other property or thing erected by the Authority.40

  2. It is a criminal offence to receive any badge, emblem or any other property or thing unlawfully taken or removed from a place which is protected in terms of the Act.41

  3. The Authority is obliged to promote the presentation and uses of the national estate for public enjoyment, education, research and tourism.42 This includes establishing plaques, exhibitions, memorials, training of guides, and so forth. It seems that private enterprise can do this, but any person who wishes to undertake the presentation of a protected heritage resource must, at least 60 days prior to doing so (and, even before manufacturing the associated material) consult with the Authority. It is a crime not to do so.43

  4. You may only erect a plaque, or other permanent display or structure associated with such presentation in the vicinity of a protected place, only in consultation with the Authority. It is a crime to do otherwise.44

G. Protected areas and structures

  1. SAHRA can (with the consent of the owner) declare an area as a protected area. This occurs in respect of land:
    • surrounding a national heritage site;45
    • surrounding any wreck; and46
    • covered by a mine dump.47
  2. It is an offence to damage, disfigure, alter, subdivide or in any way develop any part of such a protected area without having consulted with the Authority 60 days prior to initiating the changes.48

  3. The Authority can also declare protected area in respect of land:
    • surrounding a provincial heritage site;49
    • surrounding any archaeological or palaeological site;50
    • surrounding a meteorite.51 The same criminal sanction applies in this regard.52
  4. It is an offence to demolish, or even alter any structure (or part of a structure) which is older than 60 years, without a permit.53

H. Heritage inspectors

These inspectors, appointed by the Authority,54 have fairly wide powers of inspection, photographing, measuring, confiscation, entry to premises and vehicles, interrogation, and so forth.55

  1. It is an offence to furnish any information to an inspector which you know to be false.56

  2. You may not hinder or obstruct any heritage inspector in the exercise of his powers or functions, and commit a criminal offence if you do.57

  3. It is an offence not to comply with any (reasonable) request or requirement of an inspector.58

  4. Once a person ceases to be a heritage inspector, he must forthwith return the identity card given to him upon his appointment, and commits an offence if he fails to do so.59

I. General

  1. Any person who fails to provide any information that is required to be given in terms of the Act (whether at the request of the Authority, or not) commits an offence.60
  1. They include, at least, fragments of every book in the Old Testament and – they date from the Second Century B.C. – are the oldest Hebrew language texts of their kind. 

  2. See Wikipedia: ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls This sum is in today’s terms. 

  3. It depends on your point of view. Some would argue the case for ‘Mrs Ples’, for example. One of the most famous and important fossil finds ever, he (not ‘she’, actually) is believed to be almost 3 million years old. The fossil was discovered in 1947 near Sterkfontein Caves, Maropeng. Read further at www.scienceinafrica.com – ‘Mrs Ples’; and at www.maropeng.co.za

  4. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 25 of 1999. 

  5. The South African Heritage Resources Agency is located at 111 Harrington Street Cape Town. It can be contacted on (tel: 021 462 4502). 

  6. The National Heritage Council is at 57 Kasteel Road, Pretoria (tel: 012 348 1663.) 

  7. Section 2(xvii) 

  8. I refer to the ‘Authority’ in this chapter. It means SAHRA and/or the relevant provincial heritage resource authority, as the case may be. 

  9. Section 51(1)(a) read with section 27(18). 

  10. Section 51(1)(d) read with section 27(21),(22). 

  11. Section 51(1)(e) read with section 27(23)(b). 

  12. The full list, sourced from SAHRA, is in the Reference section. 

  13. Section 2(XV) read with section 32(7). 

  14. Section 51(1)(a),(f) read with section 32(13). 

  15. Section 51(1)(a),(f) read with section 32(13). 

  16. Section 51(1)(a) read with section 32(19). 

  17. A list of the countries which have cultural property agreements with South Africa is obtainable from the National Department of Arts and Culture. 

  18. Section 51(1)(b) read with section 33(2). 

  19. Section 51(1)(d) read with section 33(1). 

  20. Section 51(1)(d) read with section 32(15). 

  21. Section 51(1)(e) read with section 32(17). 

  22. Section 51(1)(f) read with section 32(16). 

  23. Section 51(1)(f) read with 32(20). 

  24. Section 51(1)(a) read with section 29(10). 

  25. Section 2(ii), (xxxi). 

  26. Section 51(1)(e) read with section 35(3). 

  27. Section 51(1)(b)read with section 35(4)(a). 

  28. Section 51(1)(b)read with section 35(4)(b). 

  29. Section 51(1)(d)read with section 35(6). 

  30. Section 51(1)(b)read with section 35(4)(c). 

  31. Section 51(1)(b)read with section 35(4)(d). 

  32. Section 51(1)(b) and (e) read with section 36(3)(a)(a). 

  33. Section 51(1)(b) and (e) read with section 36(3)(a)(a). 

  34. : Section 51(1)(b) and (e) read with section 36(3)(a)(b). 

  35. Section 51(1)(b) and (e) read with section 36(3)(a)(b). 

  36. Section 51(1)(b) and (e) read with section 36(3)(a)(c). 

  37. Section 51(5)(b). 

  38. Section 51(5)(c). 

  39. Section 51(5)(d). 

  40. Section 51(5)(e). 

  41. Section 51(5)(f). 

  42. Section 5(5) read with section 13(1); read with section 44(1). 

  43. Section 51(1)(f) with section 44(2). 

  44. Section 51(1)(d) with section 44(3). 

  45. Section 28(1)(a). 

  46. Section 28(1)(b). 

  47. Section 28(1)(c). 

  48. Section 51(1)(c) read with sections 28(3). 

  49. Section 28(2)(a). 

  50. Section 28(2)(b). 

  51. Section 28(2)(b). 

  52. Section 51(1)(c) read with section 28(3). 

  53. Section 51(1)(c) read with section 34(1). 

  54. All members of SAPS and all customs and excise officers are also deemed to be heritage inspectors. 

  55. Section 50(1),(7)(8)(9). 

  56. Section 51(1)(f) with section 50(12)(b). 

  57. Section 51(1)(f) with section 50(12)(c). 

  58. Section 51(1)(f) with section 50(12)(a). 

  59. Section 51(1)(f) with section 50(5). 

  60. Section 51(5)(a).