Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

Year inscribed: 2007
Location: Northern Cape, 28º 36′ S 17º 12′ 14″ E
Type: Cultural heritage

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape covers 160 000 hectares of dramatic mountainous desert in the north-west part of South Africa.

A unique feature of the site – both in South African and international terms – is that it is owned and managed by a community that until recently had very little to call its own.

Characterised by extreme temperatures, the communally run landscape affords a semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood for the Nama people, descendants of the Khoisan people who once occupied lands across southern Namibia and most of the present-day Western and Northern Cape provinces of South Africa.

Khoisan is a term used to describe two separate groups, physically similar in being light-skinned and small in stature. The Khoi, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans, were pastoralists and were effectively annihilated; the San, called Bushmen by the Europeans, were hunter-gatherers. A small San population still lives in South Africa.

Modern human history in the Richtersveld began a century or more back, when the Khoi were pushed into the remote region by the spread of other farmers from the Cape. The San people, meanwhile, were forced into the area from the north. According to the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, while fighting occurred initially, the two groups soon merged into the people now known as the Nama.

What is special about the Richtersveld heritage site is that it was only a few years ago that the area was returned to the ownership of the Nama under South Africa’s land restitution programme.

Today, the Nama have managed to find the balance between the continuation of their ancient pastoral lifestyle and the needs of conservation to maintain the health of the land.

They still practise seasonal migration between stock-posts, using and building traditional portable rush-mat houses. The Nama are the last practitioners of this millennia-old way of life.

“The extensive communal grazed lands bear testimony to the land management processes which have ensured the protection of the succulent Karoo vegetation,” the World Heritage Committee noted. “This demonstrates a harmonious interaction between people and nature.”