Frequently Asked Questions

Heritage and your community

What is defined as heritage?

The National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) defines a heritage resource as any place or object of cultural significance. ‘Cultural significance’ is defined in the legislation as aesthetic, architectural, historical, scientific, social, spiritual, linguistic or technological value or significance.

Such resources are for example:

  • places, buildings, structures and equipment of cultural significance
  • places to which oral traditions are attached or which are associated with living heritage
  • historical settlements and townscapes
  • landscapes and natural features of cultural significance
  • geological sites of scientific or cultural importance
  • archaeological and palaeontological sites
  • graves and burial grounds
  • sites of significance relating to the history of slavery in South Africa
  • archaeological and palaeontological objects and material, meteorites and rare geological specimens
  • objects to which oral traditions are attached or which are associated with living heritage
  • ethnographic art and objects
  • military objects
  • objects of decorative or fine art
  • objects of scientific or technological interest
  • books, records, documents, photographic positives and negatives, graphic, film and video material or sound recordings.
What are the rights of the community?

Communities have the right, confirmed by the Constitution of South Africa, to be consulted in respect of decisions that will have an impact on the community’s heritage resources. In fact, the NHRA is unambiguous. It affirms that heritage resources “form an important part of the history and beliefs of communities and must be managed in a way that acknowledges the right of affected communities to be consulted and to participate in their management”. To this end a provincial heritage resources authority must maintain a list of registered conservation bodies. You can find a list of conservation bodies in South Africa here. Note that any decision made by a local authority may be appealed by anyone whose rights are affected by such a decision in terms of the Municipal Systems Act. Similarly, any decision may be appealed by any person or body that has an interest in, or is affected by, such a decision in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act.

How do I research my community?
How do I conduct a heritage survey of my community?

Refer to our article, Guide to conducting a heritage survey

How do I get a site declared?

Any person may submit a proposal in writing to the Department of Environmental Affairs for a place to be nominated for inclusion on the world heritage list. For national grade I heritage sites, an official nomination form must be prepared and submitted to the South African Heritage Resources Agency. In the case of provincial, grade II heritage sites and grade III local heritage sites, a nomination form will need to be submitted to the relevant provincial heritage resources authority. At present, no municipality has been declared competent to declare grade III heritage resources, although some municipalities do maintain heritage inventories. You can lobby your council to have a site included on these inventories. 

How do I get an area declared?

Protected areas or heritage areas can be declared in terms of section 28 and section 31 of the National Heritage Resources Act. In the case of protected areas, nominations can be made to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (for national declaration) or the relevant provincial heritage resources authority (for provincial declaration). Heritage areas can be proclaimed by a local authority after consultation with the relevant provincial heritage resources authority. This will typically be formalised through a planning by-law or zoning scheme.

Should I notify HASA about endangered heritage sites in my area?

You may notify HASA if you feel that national consciousness-raising or intervention is required, but if you suspect that a heritage site is in imminent danger it is important that you notify your provincial heritage resources authority and local authority as soon as possible. If the site is threatened by illegal development you should also open a case with the South African Police Services. We further suggest you contact a local heritage conservation body with an interest in the area as they will have experience in working in local conditions.

How can I become involved in HASA’s activities?

Local heritage conservation bodies are struggling to maintain members. If you would like to volunteer your time to a heritage cause, we suggest you start with supporting your local organisation. If no local organisation exists, you can volunteer time to establish a local heritage body. HASA will gladly provide advice on how to do so. You can also support us by attending our annual heritage symposiums, by nominating worthy heritage champions for the Simon van der Stel awards, and by contributing stories to our website and newsletter. Also, the local organisation you form, or join, may become an associate of HASA, or if there is no heritage body in your area you may apply – in your personal capacity – for association with HASA.

Does HASA provide funding?

HASA does not provide funding to heritage bodies except in exceptional cases of national significance. We can however provide technical advice.

Who can I approach for funding?
Organisations that may provide funding for heritage projects are:

National Heritage Council


Department of Arts and Culture

National Lotteries Commission


Shared Cultural Heritage Programme


U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation


You may also approach local charitable trusts and foundations, the private sector and individuals. It is important before approaching any funding body for support that you check their funding criteria carefully and only apply if your project meets those criteria which the funder states are essential. General fund-raising appeals are almost always unfruitful, although some crowdsourcing campaigns do work.

What assistance can HASA provide?
HASA can provide guidance and advice on heritage-related matters or connect you with our local networks which may be able to assist.
How do I establish a heritage body?

The principal aim of heritage bodies is to advocate and lobby for the protection of heritage resources. They create a vehicle for communities to conserve and promote heritage sites and historic environments. Heritage bodies can act as pressure groups and advisers to find solutions for heritage sites at risk. They may undertake regular activities such as heritage walks and tours, arrange heritage month or heritage day events, and deliver education and training programmes to promote public awareness and support.

Importantly, heritage bodies may register their interest in a particular area or a category of heritage resources with their provincial heritage resources authority. This gives them legal standing with the authority in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act.

A heritage body is usually a formally established association of members with a constitution. For fundraising purposes it is advisable to register the body as both a non-profit organisation with the Department of Social Development, as well as a non-profit company with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission. Bear in mind that registration may result in annual costs related to the preparation and submission of financial statements.

The UK-based Heritage Help [http://heritagehelp.org.uk/] suggests that successful heritage bodies are underpinned by three basic principles:

Good governance: this means:

  • having a robust forward-looking strategy
  • having a clearly identified mission and goals
  • observing all constitutional principles and objects
  • managing risk
  • having the right mix of trustees with a combination of
  • legal
  • financial
  • heritage/building conservation skills
  • Other useful skillsets would be:
  • fundraising
  • social enterprise
  • digital media
  • heritage education

Inclusivity: this entails constantly striving to attract ‘new blood’ and new audiences. Do this by celebrating any achievements, using media and membership schemes creatively to embrace new supporters, and refreshing the trustee profile on a regular basis.

Sustainability: this entails ensuring the long-term future of the organisation. Do this by striving to obtain project funding and thinking carefully about how best to use any assets you might acquire in order to have the resources in place to meet the long-term core costs of running the organisation.

Heritage and your home

I want to carry out work on my property. What do I need to do?

If your property is older than 60 years it is protected by legislation and you will need a permit from your provincial heritage resources authority before you may proceed with alterations, additions or demolitions. This is irrespective of whether the alterations, additions or demolitions are for the exterior or interior of a structure. Municipalities will usually not approve building plans for properties older than 60 years if you cannot provide evidence of a heritage permit having been issued.

If your property falls within a heritage area declared in terms of a planning by-law or zoning scheme, you will also require approval of your plans from the local authority concerned.

If the intended development meets any of the following criteria, you will need to inform your provincial heritage resources authority of your intention to develop – regardless of the age of your property:

  • the construction of a road, wall, powerline, pipeline, canal or other similar form of linear development or barrier exceeding 300 m in length
  • the construction of a bridge or similar structure exceeding 50 m in length
  • any development or other activity which will change the character of a site –
    • exceeding 5 000 m2 in extent, or
    • involving three or more existing erven or subdivisions thereof, or
    • involving three or more erven or divisions thereof which have been consolidated within the past five years, or
    • the cost of which will exceed a sum set in terms of regulations by SAHRA or a provincial heritage resources authority, or
  • the re-zoning of a site exceeding 10 000 m2 in extent, or
  • any other category of development provided for in regulations by SAHRA or a provincial heritage resources authority

Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that buildings do not have to be old to have cultural significance. Was your property designed by an important architect? Is it situated in a heritage setting? Does your local community or conservation body regard your property as important? If so, it is advisable to consult heritage professionals before you proceed with alterations, additions or demolitions.

How do I know if my property is older than 60 years?

There are a number of ways in which you can date your property. Architectural drawings are usually lodged with your local authority. Request a copy, as these plans are dated. You can also request copies of the original township establishment maps or consult your council’s valuation rolls. Also consult property registers with the Deed’s Office or the Surveyor General’s Office. These registers contain the history of land grants, transfers, subdivisions and consolidations of properties. Other sources may include aerial or historic photographs. Aerial photographs may be sourced from the Chief Surveyor General. In more complicated cases you may need to consult a heritage professional who can prepare a report on your behalf.  

What are good principles when altering a culturally significant home or structure?

Confirm if there are heritage approvals required.

Before you commence work on your property, always first confirm whether there are heritage approvals required from your local council and/or the provincial heritage resources authority concerned. Also read I want to carry out work on my property. What do I need to do?


Doing research on your house will assist you in understanding its important and historic features. It will also help to avoid delays in getting planning permissions from the authorities. Contact your local conservation body for advice.


It is recommended that additions, alterations and repairs to heritage buildings must be able to be reversed. This will minimise the impact of your work on historic material and will ensure that the original plan, form and appearance of the building is not lost.


Sometimes work can expose materials or other information about the history of a building. We recommend that you take every opportunity to record any historic material or features of interest discovered during such works.

Traditional materials

Original historic materials are unique and make a major contribution to the character and significance of a building. However, no material remains in perfect condition, and even the most durable material will need to be repaired or sometimes replaced.

When working on your home, we recommend you try to use traditional building materials and methods where this can be ascertained.

Note that modern technology and materials can sometimes help you to keep more of the original material, but expert advice is particularly recommended in such cases to ensure compatibility. This approach can sometimes be a little more expensive, but will ultimately help to protect the character of your home.

Please note that some forms of maintenance may be subject to heritage approvals from your provincial heritage resources authority.

Source: Adapted from English Heritage. Undated. General Principles of Altering an Older House

What do I need for a heritage application?

A list of provincial heritage resources authorities can be found here.

Consult them for the relevant application forms, list of supporting documents required and procedures to be followed

May I prepare my own applications?

A section 34 application (for properties older than 60 years) may be prepared by the owner of the property. However, if you suspect that your property has heritage value, it is advisable to seek professional advice from a heritage practitioner. In cases where the property is situated in a heritage area or where it is likely that a provincial heritage resources authority will request that a heritage impact assessment or a heritage statement be compiled, you will need to demonstrate that your application was prepared by a skilled and experienced person. You may request a list of practitioners from your provincial heritage resources authority or alternatively consult the member directory of the Association of Professional Heritage Practitioners [www.aphp.org.za].

Do I have to consult the community?

It is advisable that you consult with any local heritage interest groups before you submit your application to your local council and/or the provincial heritage resources authority. They will be able to guide you in cases where heritage resources will be affected. Note that in certain cases the National Heritage Resources Act makes it a mandatory requirement that you consult with affected communities and other interested parties. We suggest that you document your interactions with conservation bodies in writing. Note that any decision made by a local authority may be appealed by anyone whose rights are affected by such a decision in terms of the Municipal Systems Act. Similarly, any decision made by a provincial heritage resources authority may be appealed by any person or body that has an interest in, or is affected by, such a decision in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act.

How do I look after my heritage home?


Regular maintenance is essential to maintain your home. It could help prevent expensive repairs at a later date. We recommend that you assess your property regularly and compile a list of maintenance and repair work needed. You can then plan and budget for the necessary work.

Keeping your home dry

The most important maintenance task is to ensure that damp does not get into your home. Check roof coverings, rainwater valleys, gutters, downpipes and drains regularly to make sure they are working properly. Also make sure spaces are properly ventilated.

Conduct a maintenance inspection

English Heritage publishes a useful maintenance checklist for heritage properties that you can adapt for your property. You can also appoint a building professional to conduct a condition survey of your home.

Rainwater gutters, channels and hopper heads

  • Inspect and clear any debris at least every autumn and preferably more often
    • Are there any leaking joints?
    • Does rainfall cascade from the roof over the gutter?
    • Does the water pool in any one area?
    • Do the gutters slope correctly towards outlets?
    • If gutters are fixed to timber fascia boards, check the condition of fascia boards and, at the same time, soffit and barge boards.

Rainwater pipes

  • Inspect when it is raining, and note leakages.
  • Clear any blockages.
  • Check rear side of pipes with a mirror and look for cracks and corrosion.
  • Are pipes securely fixed to the wall?
  • Are there any signs of staining or algae growth, or any washed-out mortar joints, on the wall behind the pipe?
  • Are the gutters, outlets and downpipes sufficient to cope with local weather conditions?

Pitched roof coverings

  • Inspections should be carried out twice a year and after storms or high winds.
  • Debris on the ground will give an indication of roof problems.
  • Are there any loose, slipped, broken or missing slates or tiles?
  • Is there a lot of moss? This could block gutters and damage slates and tiles.
  • Look for signs of dampness on ceilings as a possible indication of roof leaks.

Flat roof coverings

  • Inspections should be carried out twice a year.
  • Are there any splits, tears, cracks or holes in the roof coverings?
  • Look for signs of dampness on ceilings as a possible indication of roof leaks.


  • Are the chimney stacks or chimney pots leaning?
  • Are any chimney pots out of position?
  • Is there any vegetation growing out of the chimney?
  • Check for cracks, loose or bulging stones or brick, and badly eroded or open joints.
  • Arrange for a close inspection promptly if any of the above is noted.

Ridge tiles

  • Are any of the ridge tiles missing?
  • Check to see if there are any gaps between each ridge tile and arrange for close inspection if necessary.


  • Are all flashings fixed into the wall?
  • Check to ensure that the joints, where they are fixed, are in good condition.
  • Ensure that flashings are dressed down and have not been blown or moved away from the surface of the wall.

Drainage gullies

  • Inspections should be carried out every autumn and preferably more often.
  • Check that drainage gullies are free from silt, debris, vegetation and other objects.
  • Make sure that all gully inlets are covered by a grating.
  • If there are cooler blocks on top of flat roofs for insulation, remove these from time to time to check that flat roof coverings are not deteriorating.

Exterior walls

  • Is there deep erosion or missing pointing in the joints?
  • Are there any cracks?
  • Look for defects in stonework, brickwork and rendering.

Base of wall

  • Check to ensure that ground levels are at least 150 mm below the level of any known damp-proof course or 150 mm below internal floor levels.
  • Ensure that vents are not obstructed.
  • Remove plants and vegetation abutting and growing on the building.
  • Avoid any planting or watering at base of wall.

Windows and doors

  • If made of timber or metal, is the paintwork in good condition and is there any decay?
  • Check for bare timber, especially on thresholds, sills and lower and underside areas of window sashes and treat if required.
  • Maintain wood that is not painted.

Interior building services, pipes and flues

  • Check water and heating systems for leaks.
  • Ensure that pipes are lagged.
  • Electrical and gas installations should be regularly inspected by certified experts.
  • Inspect chimney flues and ensure that they are clear from obstruction and do not leak.

Source: English Heritage. Undated. Maintenance Checklist