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Cultural Heritage

South African National Parks is home to a diverse, significant and rich cultural heritage. All of our national parks contain evidence of human interaction with the natural landscape over centuries.

Visitors to our national parks can experience and explore cultural heritage treasures, such as:

  • Evidence of prehistoric life including dinosaur fossils in parks such as Golden Gate Highlands, Karoo, and the Kruger National Park.
  • Early hominid fossils in coastal parks such as the Garden Route National Park.
  • San rock art is found in parks such as Garden Route, Golden Gate Highlands, Mapungubwe, Mokala, Mountain Zebra and the Kruger National Park.
  • The sand dunes in the Kgalagadi, also listed as the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, bears untold stories of the long sustainable interaction of the ǂKhomani San in the harsh desert landscape.
  • The nomadic herder life of the Nama people is celebrated in the Richtersveld National Park.
  • Proof of Iron Age communities is found in abundance in many parks including the early civilization of the Mapungubwe Kingdom, with an indication of early Indian ocean trade in both the Kruger and Mapungubwe National Parks. Early Iron smelting practices can be witnessed in the Kruger and Marakele National Parks.
  • Maritime heritage is found in most coastal parks in the form of Historic Lighthouses and shipwrecks around Addo, Agulhas, Table Garden Route, and Table Mountain National Parks.
  • Colonial heritage and early European style architectural buildings can be found in many coastal parks. Early farmsteads can be observed in many parks in the form of ruins as well as restored buildings. There is a number of monuments and memorials in most parks commemorating personalities as well as events in the history of the country.
  • Many spaces in the parks hold sacredness to communities and families who keep the intangible significance of those places alive through pilgrimages and ritual performances.

Some cultural heritage sites found within the national parks:

Augrabies Falls, Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls, Augrabies Falls National Park

The Khoi people called the Augrabies Falls 'Aukoerebis', the place of the Great Noise, referring to the Orange River thundering its way downwards for 60 metres in a spectacular waterfall. The falls are sacred to the Khoi who believe that a giant snake lives at the bottom of the falls. It is believed to be a powerful mythic creature with mesmeric eyes, shimmering scales and a huge flawless diamond on its head for a crown.

Khoi and San (Bushmen) belief has it that this enormous jewel can bring you great happiness – if you could only outwit the snake. But if you fall under its spell, you’ll be captured in its shimmering scales and pulled underwater into the churning froth, gone forever.

It is believed that no one has ever outwitted the snake. It might sound like a quaint little Kalahari fairy tale, but to this day the Watersnake (Waterslang) commands fear. Its influence stretches over the whole of the Karoo and Kalahari, especially where the Orange and Sak Rivers flow. There are many people who say they have seen it.

Lang Elsie’s Kraal, Bontebok National Park

Lang Elsie’s Kraal, Bontebok National Park

Two Hessequa captains and their followers lived in the area where the Bontebok National Park is now situated. The Park’s rest camp is named after the first of them, a remarkable female captain by the name of Lang Elsie. Between 1734 and 1800 she lived with her followers at the southern part of the Park, grazing their stock all the way to the Buffeljags River.

Visitors to the park can still see the open werf area where Lang Elsie’s kraal of woven reed huts was situated. Next to this open space are the ruins of a small stone house where Captain Lang Elsie lived, according to the author of Geskiedkundige Swellendam (Tomlinson, 1934).

Cave with rock paintings and other signs of use, Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Cave with rock paintings and other signs of use, Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Big rocks overhang along the eastern escarpment, along the border of the old Golden Gate Highlands National Park and QwaQwa National Park. The site consists of a large over-hang with a stone wall all along the edge of the cave. The paintings on the main wall are of unknown origin. The paintings are of a blue/ black coloration but not made from charcoal. A stone of a type not found in the park was found at the site. The stone is black in color and heavy for its size with a very fine grain. When rubbed against another rock and then wetted, the “dust” from the black stone becomes the same color as those of the paintings. The remains of stone tools and a kraal also indicates that the cave have been used by humans for a long time.

The

The "Ou Skuur", Karoo National Park

The “Ou Skuur”, or old shed, on Stolzhoek South farm, is a traditional structure built of Karoo stone and a thatched roof. Most thatched roofs in the hinterland were replaced because of the danger of fire caused by lightning. Also, corrugated iron roof sheets became available. These were easier to use in construction, they required less maintenance and so was cheaper roofing solution. Traditionally on old South African farms, such large sheds were built to house wagons and farm implements and to store any items of food or household equipment not currently in use.

The Auchterlonie Museum, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The Auchterlonie Museum, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Kgalagadi’s Auchterlonie museum consists of a restored stone-and-thatch cottage. The little museum has documents describing the pastoral lifestyle of the people who used to live here in the old days. The people that lived at Auchterlonie and similar cottages all along the riverbed towards what is now Mata-Mata on the border with Namibia, were placed here to look after the boreholes sunk along the Auob River during World War II. The area was proclaimed a national park in 1931 and the existing farmers relocated along the Kuruman River, abandoning their homes along the Auob River. SANParks restored Auchterlonie in 2004. Near the museum is a picnic area where people can get out of their cars.

Masorini Hill, Kruger National Park

Masorini Hill, Kruger National Park

Masorini hill is situated 11 km from the Phalaborwa Gate, en route to Letaba Rest Camp. During the 19th century, a group of smelters, smiths and their families lived on this hill. This site was inhabited by the Sotho-speaking BaPhalaborwa people, who developed an advanced and sophisticated industry of mining, smelting iron ore and trading in these iron products. The presence of huts, glass beads, grindstones and middens on site is indicative of everyday household activities.

Mapungubwe Hill Site Complex (1220- 1290 A.D.), Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe Hill Site Complex (1220- 1290 A.D.), Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe Hill is the first evidence in southern Africa of the development of class structured society or state with the rise of a royal class. This royal class stayed on top of the Hill while the commoners stayed below. The development of the royal class could have been through accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, most likely from trade. The control of trade and resulting unequal distribution of wealth allowed a rapid increase in political power for a few.

The central position of Mapungubwe hill, near the confluence of Limpopo and Shashe rivers, made it easily accessible to traders. The goods were taken to the monsoon-based east African coast reaching as far as China. The Mapungubwe state commanded an estimated area of 30 000 square kilometres stretching out 50km on both sides of the Limpopo-Shashe confluence. 5000 people are believed to have lived at and around Mapungubwe.

Chessboard, Mountain Zebra National Park

Chessboard, Mountain Zebra National Park

It is believed that the chessboard was created during the early 1900s by British soldiers. They created the chessboard or draught board on a rock on top of Saltpeterskop, a 1 514m high hill. Also on the rock with chessboard are names and regiments of the British soldiers. The area was used as a lookout point during the Anglo Boer war. The story goes that the soldiers played chess with their mates in an old fort in Cradock. The moves were transmitted by means of a mirror which had the official purpose of communicating warning signals.