South Africa is a country blessed with rich natural and cultural heritage sites – definitely too many for one blog post! Besides our 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites there are hundreds of national and provincial heritage attractions.
So when Webjet asked me to share my insights on my top heritage site in SA, I decided to focus on our cultural and historical heritage. Here are my picks, in no particular order:-
Growing up in KZN, we often went for family weekends away to the Drakensberg. These ancient mountains are home to the greatest concentration of San Bushman rock art in South Africa. The ‘Berg’ (as we locals call it) is perhaps more famous for its hiking and spectacular mountain scenery than its thousands of Bushman rock art sites. The best way to experience San rock art is by hiking to some of the many sites. The ‘Main Caves Museum’ on the Giant’s Castle Reserve are the most accessible – you don’t have to do a major trek to get there.
2. The Cradle of Humankind
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cradle is the world’s richest hominid fossil site, where around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils were discovered. Heard of Mrs Ples and Little Foot? A visit to the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng information centre to learn about the origins of mankind is a must when you’re in Gauteng.
2. Robben Island
The island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. Besides being a prison, over the years the island has housed a hospital, mental institution, leper colony and a military base. I think it’s pretty cool that their tours are guided by former political prisoners of the island, offering visitors unique insight into the personal stories of prison life.
4. Kwazulu Natal Battlefields
On my high school history tour of the KZN battlefields, I became enthralled with the rich history of this area – Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are two of the most famous battlefields in the SA, and also perhaps in British history. It was here that the Zulu forces, armed mainly with traditional weapons defeated the mighty British Colonial Empire – one of the few times they were ever overpowered by an indigenous army!
Mapungubwe, in Limpopo, is one of the most underrated heritage sites in SA. This ‘lost city’ is an important Iron Age archaeological site. A millennium ago, the ancient city was the centre of the largest known kingdom in the African sub-continent, where a highly advanced people traded gold and ivory with Asia. Artefacts discovered on the hill include glass and gold beads, and the famous Golden Rhino. Mapungubwe, a World Heritage Site, is also famous for its magnificent sandstone formations, wildlife and nature.
6. Apartheid Musuem
I’ve visited the Apartheid Museum at least four times over the years, and it never ceases to move me. The buliding’s stark design reflects the hostile days of apartheid and its rich archival exhibits take you on a journey through South Africa’s darkest time.
6. Constitution Hill
The Constitution Hill Precinct is probably my top heritage site to visit in Johannesburg. The hill was formerly the site of a fort (built in 1982) which was later used as a prison. Political activists opposed to apartheid as well as common criminals were held at the Old Fort Prison.The precinct is home to the Constitutional Court, Women’s Gaol museum, Number Four museum, and Old Fort museum. Famous inmates include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Fateema Meer and Joe Slovo.
8. Hector Pietersen Museum
Situated just a few blocks from where 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot in the Soweto Student Riots of 1976, The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto, commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid. The museum tells the story of that specific politically charged moment in apartheid history. I found the large format images highly effective, taking me back in time to senseless violence of 1976.
9. Satyagraha House
Did you know that Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa? Satyagraha House – where Gandhi lived for two years – has been converted into a private museum and boutique hotel dedicated to Gandhi’s history in South Africa. I like that the decor ans style of the hotel and museum pays homage to Gandhi’s satyagraha philosophy.
10. The Bo Kaap
I love the brightly painted houses of the Bo-Kaap. Cape Town’s most colourful neighbourhood is not just pretty, it has important heritage value. The Bo Kaap, was established centuries ago by freed slaves, many of whom hailed from South East Asia and practiced Islam. A visit to the Bo-Kaap Museum provides visitors with fascinating history of the Bo Kaap’s Muslim community, its history and culture.
Of course i had to end with a jump pic, that’s how excited heritage makes me 🙂
I may have skipped a few, but that’s only because we have too many heritage attractions to choose from! What are your favourite heritage sites in Mzansi?