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Afriforum demands answers about threats to south africa’s world heritage sites

The civil rights organisation AfriForum demands answers from, among others, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs and the Mogale City Local Municipality regarding the condition of the Vredefort Dome and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Sites respectively. Currently, these sites are neglected to such an extent that they may lose their World Heritage status.

The Vaal River – which flows through the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site – suffers from sewage pollution, because several malfunctioning sewage wastewater treatment plants in towns upstream of the Vredefort Dome discharge untreated sewage into the river. This poses great danger to natural water resources and human health.

The Cradle of Humankind is also threatened by sewage pollution. Recent media reports have put the spotlight on the dysfunctional Percy Stewart Waste Water Treatment Works in Krugersdorp, where raw sewage is discharged into the Blougatspruit. The Blougatspruit is a tributary of the Bloubankspruit which flows through the Cradle of Humankind.

In terms of the World Heritage Convention – which was established by UNESCO in 1972 to protect places of extraordinary and universal natural or cultural value – countries that have signed this convention have the duty to manage and protect sites with formal world heritage status. The prestigious World Heritage status has only been awarded to ten sites in South Africa, which proves the uniqueness and irreplaceable value of these sites. It must be proudly presented to the international community and can promote tourism and economic development. The status even includes the possibility of international funding, but all this is subject to its proper management by the relevant authorities. The World Heritage Committee expressed concern as early as 2005 about the risk of sewage pollution at the Vredefort Dome and has been warning similarly about the Cradle of Humankind since at least 2015.

According to Marais de Vaal, AfriForum’s advisor for Environmental Affairs, the threat to these sites illustrates the macro-scale of the decay of water infrastructure and associated loss of the integrity of natural water resources in the country. “Where World Heritage status should be an international showcase of responsible and effective conservation, it now puts the international spotlight on poor governance, poor service delivery, poor cooperation between different spheres of government and the lack of accountability when officials fail to carry out their obligations,” says De Vaal.

AfriForum has already written to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs as well as the Mogale City Local Municipality to demand answers about the maintenance of the sites and the sewage pollution in general. If it is found that the government is not meeting its obligations, it must be denounced.

“Municipalities must urgently start looking for solutions to get South Africa’s sanitation service delivery to an acceptable standard. AfriForum would like to help with the implementation of solutions and encourages municipalities to get in touch with the organisation. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that our unique natural and cultural heritage is preserved for future generations,” adds De Vaal.

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