Why Cultural Resource Management?

Knersvlakte ruin

Cultural Resources Management (CRM) refers to what we do to conserve and promote the cultural heritage of our land. South Africa has an incredibly rich heritage that is as diverse as its people. Some of the highlights of this heritage include:

  • The fossils of the Karoo record long lost animal species from many millions of years ago;
  • The Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng has revealed some of the earliest hominin fossils;
  • A large proportion of the world’s Middle Stone Age shell middens occur on the west and south coasts of South Africa, some of which are associated with early human remains ;
  • An abundance of Later Stone Age shell middens and other sites where the ancestors of the Bushmen and Khoekhoen lived occur throughout the country;
  • Stone Age Rock art is widespread in South Africa with paintings in the mountainous areas and engravings in the interior;
  • South Africa has a wealth of historical buildings and pre-colonial built structures that preserve the architectural styles and achievements of their day;
  • Cultural landscapes are an important part of what makes our country unique – these are the tapestries created through the interaction of people and nature;
  • The scenery of the country as enjoyed from the many official and unofficial scenic routes is a widespread resource; and
  • Intangible heritage includes language, customs, religious beliefs, oral traditions and memories associated with people, places and objects.

So why should we care?

South Africa’s rich heritage has tremendous value from three primary points of view.

  1. Firstly there is the scientific value attached mainly to palaeontological, archaeological and architectural heritage. South Africa is currently the site of numerous local and international research projects. Such research can inform on the environments of the past and how these have changed and continue to change today. It also explains the development of humanity and how the things that people did through time have changed and why.
  2. Then there is social and cultural value where people recognise their past heritage and wish to preserve or celebrate that heritage.  This has been done in various cultural centres and adds value to communities. This value recognises both tangible and intangible heritage. Tangible heritage is things we can see, feel and experience physically (points 1-8 above), while intangible heritage refers to the wealth of oral history, tradition and memory that is held in the minds of people (point 9 above). The two types of heritage are at times inextricably linked as we find that physical heritage resources are accorded value through the intangible heritage associated with them. In other words, it may be only because of peoples’ memory of a place that it is important to them.
  3. Another aspect of value is the financial value that is derived through tourism. Many people come to South Africa for the tourism opportunities present here and both natural and cultural heritage are key aspects. Think of the Cape Winelands and the massive contribution they make to the local economy.

Heritage is of value to all of South Africa’s people and for various reasons it is our duty to see that this wonderful set of resources is available to all South Africans, present and future. Simon Thurley[i] described a ‘heritage cycle’ as follows:

  • Through creating a better understanding of heritage people will value it;
  • Through valuing heritage people will want to care for it;
  • By caring for heritage they will help others to better enjoy it; and
  • From an enjoyment of heritage comes a greater desire to understand it.

CRM fits into the first step of this cycle. It is certainly not there to prevent development but, in the words of Thurley, it is part of “a process to enable change to take place that will give all parts of the historic environment a sustainable future”.

[i] Thurley, S. 2005. English Heritage – the first 21 years. Into the future: our strategy for 2005-2010. Conservation Bulletin 49: 26-27.