Term 4: A Heritage trail through the provinces of South Africa

What is heritage?

Heritage

Heritage is a deceptively simple idea. It can be considered to be made up of the practices and traditions that are passed on from parents to children, but it also has to do with what has been passed on from the family, community and place where people have been raised. For example, heritage can include a family's professional history; religious affiliation; or cultural traditions.  Yet heritage also includes that which is part of the national consciousness. A person who was born in South Africa, for instance, has both a national South African heritage, as well as a more personal and private one. Such a person might also be considered to have an African heritage too, because they were born on the continent of Africa. 

Clearly then, there are different types of heritage. A country’s natural heritage is its beautiful environment and natural resources, like gold and water. Areas that are very special and where animals or plants are in danger of extinction like the St. Lucia Wetlands and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Parks in KwaZulu Natal are said to be World Heritage Sites, because they are considered to be so unique that they are internationally respected and protected against harm.

Cultural heritage might include natural resources or land formations, but is also formed of those things that are symbollic of the creativity and livelihoods of a group of people. For instance, it could include special monuments, buildings, sculptures, paintings, cave dwellings or anything else deemed important because of its history, artistic or scientific value. The style of buildings can also be considered part of one's cultural heritage because of their specific type of architecture, where they are built or what they are used for. Therefore, Robben Island, the Cradle of Humankind at the caves of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai in Gauteng, the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and the ancient city of Mapungubwe in Limpopo are all examples of South African cultural heritage.

When people talk about South African heritage, they might be referring to anything from famous stretches of coastline in Kwazulu-Natal, to shweshwe fabric, to Bunny Chow. Heritage is therefore something quite personal and changes from person to person.  

Last updated : 03-Oct-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 01-Feb-2012