Canteen Kopje:  Cultural Heritage Under Threat

Canteen Kopje is a declared South African heritage site, gazetted as such in 1948. It was one of the few archaeological sites recognised in this way prior to 1994.


In 2014 the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMR) issued a permit for mining to take place on part of the declared site. The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) was alerted and in response, because of the existing formal declaration, a Cease Works Order was put in place to prevent mining from taking place. Pressure was exerted however and in March 2016 the Cease Works Order was lifted, following which, on 16 March 2016, a diamond mining operation commenced work by fencing off an area around that for which they have a DMR mining permit. Public access to the remainder of the heritage site was blocked.


Section 27(18) of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) (Act 25 of 1999) states that:


No person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit issued by the heritage resources authority responsible for the protection of such site.


Section 51. (1) of the NHRA states that:


Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, any person who contravenes— (a) sections 27(18), 29(10), 32(13) or 32(19) is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or imprisonment or both such fine and imprisonment as set out in item 1 of the Schedule.


Since the mining concern has commenced mining operations without such a permit issued by SAHRA, it is clearly in contravention of an Act of the Republic of South Africa and therefore is guilty of an offence.


There cannot be any change of status for a declared heritage site without due process resulting in informed decision/s by relevant provincial and/or national heritage authority/ies.


DMR could not have been unaware of the gazetted declaration, given a legal procedure negotiated in 1999 when DMR referred to the sensitivity of Canteen Kopje; indeed the 2014 decision to award a mining permit contravened its own 1999 proscriptions concerning Canteen Kopje.


Significance – and precedent


Canteen Kopje is of national and international significance as outlined in the attached fact sheet. It contains evidence of a very long sequence of human history from Earlier Stone Age times to the nineteenth century, including the neglected history of local people. The site attracts researchers from South Africa and around the world. Most recently the Canteen Kopje has become a field site for the training of students at the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley. In 2015 this programme of practical work generated new research findings on what is believed to be Tswana inhabitation of the site. This work is scheduled to be continued in 2016.


There is interest expressed by an international funding agency to help to protect the site which has long term developmental potential for facilitating heritage skills, jobs and tourism. (By contrast, mining of the site would be destructive, of short and finite duration, and have limited impact on poverty alleviation).


What has happened at Canteen Kopje this week sets a serious precedent for South African heritage. If the heritage authority fails to insist on the requirements of the Act then the integrity of the authority and the efficacy of the Act itself will have been compromised.