UNESCO site

‘‘Official mismanagement’ sees Vredefort Dome fall into ruin’


HASA has been concerned about the condition of the World heritage site  ‘Vredefort Dome’ particularly the Interpretation centre which has never been opened.

Members of the HASA executive committee met with the CEO of SAHRA and others 24th Nov. 2014  to discuss this matter and try and get some action taken

The following article was published in the Business Day / on BDLive today

“MANY visitors to the Vredefort Dome in Parys, southwest of Johannesburg, leave soon after arriving — put off by the collapsing visitor centre, inaccessible roads and lack of information about the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Site.

Several other places of cultural, historical and scientific interest in SA, including many museums, are suffering the same mismanagement.

The Vredefort Dome is a 300km-wide crater caused by a meteorite, estimated to have had a diameter of about 10km, slamming into Earth 2-billion years ago. It was probably the biggest explosion in history and, according to some scientists, may have sparked major evolutionary changes on earth.

Unesco, which declared the dome a World Heritage Site in 2005, promised it would be protected by the international heritage convention after it was proclaimed by the government and given legal protection.

In a letter published in Geobulletin, a publication of the Geological Society of SA, Uwe Reimold of Humboldt University in Berlin writes that the environmental affairs minister has not yet declared the dome a World Heritage Site.

The visitors information centre, “inaugurated with much fanfare in August 2008” never opened its doors, “which is probably — but sadly — a good thing, as it has begun to collapse prior to admitting the first visitor,” Prof Reimold writes.

Exhibits inside the building are being damaged by the elements as all the windows are smashed. There is no other facility in the area where visitors can get information about the importance of the dome. The World Heritage office at Venterskroon has been abandoned but does contain some unexplained rocks and maps.

The roads around the dome are poorly maintained so visitors find it difficult to navigate. Researchers’ movements are inhibited by private fencing.

“Official ignorance and mismanagement have resulted in the complete breakdown of development in this world-renowned site,” Prof Reimold writes. He sent his letter to Kishore Roo, director of the Unesco World Heritage Centre in France, and the minister of environmental affairs in Pretoria, but neither has replied.

Roger Gibson of the School of Geosciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, who co-authored with Prof Reimold the book Meteorite Impact — being revised for a fourth edition — says a great opportunity for education and tourism is being missed. He has been discussing the educational potential of the site with the Department of Science and Technology, which in November last year sent a delegation to the dome.

Karalyn Monteil of Unesco’s Africa Unit says the organisation has asked the government to complete the proclamation process and to implement recommendations of a 2010 monitoring mission, which includes providing visitor information and buffer-zone boundaries with surrounding farms. Unesco wants a report by February 1.

Unesco is very unlikely to deproclaim the site because it is not yet in danger, she says.

The Department of Environmental Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

The dome needs support and appreciation from the government and the private sector, professional project management and adequate funding, says Geological Society of SA executive manager Craig Smith.

But political squabbling appears to have been a problem at the Vredefort Dome.

Successful sites of historical and scientific importance in SA include the Makhonjwa Geotrail in Barberton, the Hartbeestpoort Cableway and the West Coast Fossil Park, Dr Smith says.

Another “basket case” is the George Harrison Park, site of the first discovery of gold in Johannesburg. It is the responsibility of the City of Johannesburg and is overrun with vagrants and illegal miners.”

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