ASAPA, the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists, is currently one of a number of public interest and environmental organisations appealing the awarding of new order mining rights and the approval of the environmental management plan for the Vele colliery, an open cast and underground mine situated seven kilometres from the eastern border of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site.
We took this step as part of following through on ASAPA’s objectives as a professional body, to “promote and support legislative, regulatory, and voluntary programmes in all Southern African countries that forbid and discourage all activities that result in the loss of scientific knowledge and unsanctioned damage or loss of archaeological sites, landscapes and artefacts”.
Further, we have undertaken to “support excellence in all aspects of archaeology and cultural heritage management”. In our opinion, insufficient attention has been paid to the impact that the Vele colliery will have on heritage and environmental resources in the mine’s vicinity and we feel that an integrated regional development plan for the Mapungubwe area should be drawn up before this and other mining activities are approved.
The Vele mine is set to operate for a period of around 30 years, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. While Limpopo Coal Company, the owner of the colliery, claims that the impact of the mine on the area will be temporary, it should be stated that the impact on the archaeological sites and places of intangible significance in the path of the mine and related developments will be permanent and irreversible.
The auxiliary effects of the mining, such as the road network, increased traffic, dust and noise are likely to have far-reaching impacts on the broader surroundings, including the degradation of the sense of place and the aesthetic values of the area. This cannot help but impact on the attractiveness of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape as a tourism destination and have negative consequences for the existing sustainable eco-tourism and heritage tourism sector.
Although best known for the Mapungubwe hilltop site, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in fact encompasses a network of sites with evidence for occupation by near modern humans and humans spanning from 500 000 years back to the nineteenth century. Sites dating back the last 2 000 years mark the interaction between numerous kinds of Southern African peoples (hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, agropastoralists, and voortrekkers) in the Shashe-Limpopo Confluence Area. The area is also rich in biological diversity and forms part of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve.
The entire area north of the Soutpansberg, including Mapungubwe, is likely to be impacted by a number of proposed coal mines and other industrial developments, such as power stations, in the coming decade. The Vele development is significant as it is the first on the South African side of the border. With each subsequent development, the threshold that applicants will have to meet in terms of their impact on sense of place or the environment is likely to be lower.
Mapungubwe is both a place of archaeological and historical significance and a powerful national symbol – the Order of Mapungubwe is one of South Africa’s highest honours. The sustainability of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape as a successful World Heritage Site within an industrial landscape is, however, questionable.
To donate R10 to the fight against the Vele colliery and other mining projects in the Mapungubwe area, SMS “MINE” to 31913. The full value of your donation through Vodacom, MTN or Cell C will go directly to the Save Mapungubwe Project. You can also visit www.savemapungubwe.org.za to sign the petition or make a donation.