By: Sonja Krueger, Guest Editor
The Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (MDP WHS) is situated in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of the Republic of South Africa and is part of the Drakensberg – an inland mountain range in south-eastern Africa (Figure 1). The Park is a national and international asset due to its unique natural and cultural values, and as such it has been listed as a World Heritage Site of dual significance, one of only 28 properties to be listed as such.
It is dominated by a mountain range of unique origins, and has a diverse range of ecological niches resulting in a rich biodiversity and a high number of endemic species. In addition, it is home to thousands of rock art paintings, a product of the San’s long historical relationship with this mountain environment. The Drakensberg catchment area is of major economic importance as it contributes significantly to the flow of the uThukela, uMkhomazi and uMzimkhulu Rivers, the three largest catchments in KwaZulu-Natal. It plays a key role in the economy of KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa, through the production of high quality water from its dense network of wetlands and rivers (hence its designation as a Ramsar Site in 1996), the sustainable use of natural resources, and by serving as a core destination for the tourism industry.
The Park forms a key component of the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Project (MDTP), which has been initiated as a collaborative programme between the governments of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa. As part of achieving the transfrontier vision of the MDTP the Park and adjoining Sehlabatebe National Park in Lesotho has been designated as a Transfrontier Park, to be known as the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Park.
© Shane Elliot
The western boundary of the Park forms the international boundary with the Kingdom of Lesotho which is also the east/west watershed divide between the Orange/Senqu River system flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and the uThukela, uMkhomazi and uMzimkhulu River systems flowing into the Indian Ocean. The Park encompasses the major part of the Drakensberg mountain catchment area within KwaZulu-Natal and is roughly crescent-shaped with an approximate total length of 158 km and width of 28 km at its widest point.
Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo), is the appointed Management Authority for Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. An Integrated Management Plan (IMP) was developed for the Park which forms the framework within which the Park will be managed and developed towards the achievement of its management objectives, derived in collaboration with the protected area’s stakeholders during August 2011 to January 2012.
The values and purpose of the MDP WHS
The values of a place are those remarkable attributes that exemplify it and are largely the reason that it has been proclaimed as a protected area. The values are important in planning and management, as they are the aspects of the place that must be protected. Outstanding Universal Values as recognised under the World Heritage Convention means cultural and/or natural significance that are so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. As such, the permanent protection of this heritage is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole.
The Outstanding Universal Values of the MDP WHS include the:
Superlative natural beauty and aesthetic value of the area; and the exceptional biological diversity. It supports a vast diversity of species and habitats (including a large number of globally threatened and endemic species), and an extensive system of natural wetlands and rivers.
The exceptional concentration, quality, diversity of subject, detailed depictions, and spiritual significance of San rock art which is regarded by many to be the finest prehistoric rock art in the world, having a high degree of complexity of meaning, and including some of the last rock art ever painted.
Further values of the MDP WHS include natural ecosystem service values, wilderness values (experiential values, scientific values, symbolic and spiritual values, economic values), social values, eco-cultural tourism values, scientific values and economic values.
© Shane Elliot
The total area of the park is 242,813 hectares (ha) of which 117,765 ha consists of proclaimed Wilderness Areas (Table 1). In terms of the national system of classification of protected areas (which follows that of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN]), the Park presently comprises both Wilderness areas – Category I [117,765 ha or 48.5 %] and national park and equivalent reserves – Category II [125,048 ha or 51.5%].
Section 26 of the National Environmental Management Act No. 57 of 2003 states that wilderness areas are to:
a) Protect the natural environment, biodiversity, associated natural and cultural resources and the provision of environmental goods and services.
b) Provide outstanding opportunities for solitude and;
c) Control access and only allowed by non-mechanised means.
© Shane Elliot
The Wilderness Management Plan (2011) is a supporting document of the IMP and the detailed principles for Wilderness Management is set out in the plan. Permissible activities, implementation and constraints for activities in Wilderness Areas are set out in the Zonation plan for the Park and detailed operational requirements for wilderness management have been developed.
The first Wilderness Area proclamation was more than 40 years ago. Other candidate Wilderness areas in the Park are presently being evaluated for proclamation. These candidate areas will result in more than half the MDP WHS proclaimed as Wilderness, a contribution towards Nature Needs Half.