Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape – South Africa


A 28,269 ha protected landscape, recognized for vestiges of an ancient culture, Mapunbugwe lies near rich and shallow coal deposits.


The government of South Africa submitted the core Mapungubwe area for WH list consideration to the WH Committee in 2003, but included an incomplete buffer zone, with one sector of the area immediately adjacent to the site not contained in a buffer zone. Against the recommendation of technical advisory bodies, the WH Committee went ahead and inscribed the site, requesting the government of S. Africa that the missing buffer zone area be quickly added.

In 2010, news spread that a coal mining permit had been issued to Coal of Africa in the lands that had not been included in the buffer zone. Quickly, the issue was brought to the attention of the WH Committee and made national press, as conservation stakeholders cried foul. The government of S. Africa was suddenly presented with a politically complex issue.

Impact on Operations

After having invested in start-up work at the Vele coal mine, Coal of Africa was forced to freeze its work as this issue was handled at the very slow national and international levels. A conservation NGO filed a suit against the Coal of Africa, further bogging down a resolution.

Contributing Factors

  • Poor consultation prior to submitting a nomination file to the WH Committee: The government of S. Africa apparently did not ensure a broad consultation between different government departments, conservation and land use stakeholders prior to submitting the nomination file.

  • Sloppy decision-making at the WH Committee: In a desire to expedite matters, the site was inscribed before it met strict mapping and protection standards

  • Incomplete risk assessment: Coal of Africa may have taken more care in understanding the implications of operating near this WH site and factored that into its decisions.