14 December 2023

Heritage at the heart of the Drakensberg’s majesty

drakensberg mountains

The Maloti-Drakensberg Park (Okhahlamba) was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. A heritage is a legacy, a gift, something that is handed down, usually from an ancestor.

Here, heritage is a place that is given to all the world’s people forever. This World Heritage Site – the Drakensberg – is one of only 22 in the world.

There are several reasons why the Drakensberg is so special.

Okhahlamba is intimately linked to the geomorphic history of southern Africa and the fragmentation of the Gondwana supercontinent.

The geological formations of the exposed east face of its Drakensberg escarpment within the Park record a ~220 million-year history of the evolution of the African continent.

The lower strata represent a vast inland lake and include fossils of mammal-like reptiles. Above them is the Cave Sandstone, an ancient desert with fossilised footprints of the first dinosaurs.

Capping all is basalt, the remnant of great volcanic lava flows that accompanied the break-up of Gondwana.

devil's tooth drakensberg
The exposed eastern face of the Drakensberg Mountains – the Eastern Buttress and Devil’s Tooth (Photo: Lloyd Anderson)

Unique mountain and wetland ecosystems

Of outstanding universal importance are the mountain and wetland ecosystems, and unique high-altitude alpine tundra vegetation with its associated ancient endemic invertebrates.

The Park contains its full original complement of wild plants and animals, much of which has been lost from other adjoining areas. The natural systems within the Park are considered to be unique in terms of their biological diversity in this major hot spot of plant diversity and endemism in southern Africa.

This natural area is substantially unmodified by people and their effects. Having a total area of 242 813 hectares, the Park is large enough to survive intact and to maintain genetic diversity.

Management of the Park, particularly over the last fifty years, demonstrates that the natural environmental quality of the area has been maintained and improved. In addition, the Drakensberg is home to one of the world’s greatest rock art treasures.

drakensberg rock art
The Drakensberg is home to a world-class collection of rock art (Photo: Megan Bedingham)

Drakensberg rock art

The art represents a tradition that embodies the beliefs and cosmology of the San people whose cultural tradition is fading in the region.

The uniqueness of the art is evidenced by the diverse subject matter, the minute detail portrayed, the painting techniques, the animation and the variety of positions depicted, as well as the remarkable state of preservation.

There are no other areas in the whole of Africa with such a density and diversity of rock art sites and images.

Please respect the natural beauty of the UNESCO Maloti-Drakensberg Park, including the buffer zone that surrounds the region.

Do not write, paint, scratch or draw on any surfaces. It is illegal to deface, alter or damage any rock art site and the fine for violating this law is R100,000 or a year in prison.

Similarly, it is illegal to remove flora and fauna from the Park and any privately owned land. – David Johnson

* This article first appeared in The Drakensberg magazine (first edition).