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Heritage Month | September 2020

The Role of Local Government in the Promotion and Preservation of Heritage

Definitions and Value of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage Resources





Posted: 22 September 2020

South Africa celebrates Heritage Month in September each year. It is a month to reflect on and celebrate South Africa’s heritage resources, and local government, because of its proximity to the community, is often on the frontline in the preservation, protection and promotion of South African heritage.
This years’ Heritage Month will be celebrated under the theme, “Celebrating South Africa’s Living Human Treasures.”

The theme resonates with the 32nd United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference in October 2003, which adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, described the definition of a Living Human Treasure as:

  • Persons who possess to a very high degree the knowledge and skills required for performing or re‐creating specific elements of the intangible cultural heritage.

Intangible cultural heritage was described as the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills handed down from generation to generation.
This found expression through:

  • Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  • Performing arts;
  • Social practices, rituals and festive events;
  • Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
  • Traditional craftsmanship.

The Convention also identified various measures aimed at safeguarding intangible cultural heritage through the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission through formal and non‐formal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage.

Stephano (2019) says in order to keep tradition alive in a community, it has to be safeguarded. This draws attention to community members who are considered experts in safeguarding living cultural traditions.
Unesco in 1993 started a programme that supported this. UNESCO in its Guidelines for the Establishment of National “Living Human Treasures” Systems, wrote of how its member states should grant official recognition to talented tradition bearers and practitioners, thus contributing to the transmission of their knowledge and skills to the younger generations.

States selected such persons on the basis of their accomplishments and of their willingness to convey their knowledge and skills to others. The selection was also based on the value of the traditions and expressions concerned as a testimony of the human creative genius, their roots in cultural and social traditions, their representative character for a given community, as well as their risk of disappearance.
In its Living Human Treasures Systems Guidelines, UNESCO states that one effective way of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is to conserve it by collecting, recording, and archiving. This in addition to ensuring that the bearers of the heritage continue to acquire knowledge and skills and transmit them to future generations.

In South Africa, the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthwetha, at the department’s media launch of Heritage Month on September 7, sourced and identified such carries of knowledge.

The Department unveiled three living human treasures, Dr Esther Mahlangu, Mama Madosini Latozi Mphaleni and Mama Ouma Katrina Esau. These women were described as living human treasures who distinguished themselves in their chosen fields of artistic occupation and placed South Africa on the map on the global stage.

Kurniawan., (2011) write of how tangible cultural heritage Tangible cultural heritage is divided into immovable heritage and movable heritage. Immovable heritage includes historical buildings, monuments, archeological sites. Movable heritage includes paintings, sculptures, furniture and wall paintings.

The Role of Local Government in the Promotion and Preservation of Heritage.
The National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999 (NHRA) states in its preamble that the piece of legislation aims to promote good management of the national estate, and to enable and encourage communities to nurture and conserve their legacy so that it may be transferred to future generations.

The Act speaks of a three-tier system for heritage resources management, in which national level functions are the responsibility of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), provincial level functions are the responsibility of provincial heritage resources authorities and local level functions are the responsibility of local authorities.

According to the Act:

  • The SAHRA is responsible for the identification and management of Grade I heritage resources (special national significance) and heritage resources in accordance with the applicable provisions of this Act, and shall co-ordinate and monitor the management of the national estate in the Republic.
  • A provincial heritage resources authority is responsible for the identification and management of Grade II heritage resources (heritage resources located within a province or region) and heritage resources which are deemed to be a provincial competence in terms of this Act.
  • A local authority is responsible for the identification and management of Grade III heritage resources (other resources worthy of conservation) and heritage resources which are deemed to fall within their competence in terms of this Act

The Act goes on to say that local authorities are given a mandate to declare heritage resources that have cultural significance at local level.

Section 31(7) of the Act further states that, “a local authority (with provisions) must provide for the protection of a heritage area through the provisions of its planning scheme or by-laws under this Act.”

This means that municipalities are involved in heritage management and are responsible for heritage within the legal geographical jurisdiction of a municipality.

These are but some of the sections (amongst others)) of the NHRA apply to heritage resource management at a local government level:

Designation and management of heritage areas.
Section 26(1)(f): “The responsible Minister may make regulations delegating any of its powers and functions to (f) a local authority which shows competence to perform such functions.”
Section 31(1): “A planning authority must at the time of the revision of a town or regional planning scheme, or the compilation or revision of a spatial plan… investigate the need for the designation of heritage areas to protect any place of environmental and cultural interest.”
Section 31(5): “A local authority may by notice in the Provincial Gazette, designate any area or land to be a heritage area on the grounds of its environmental and cultural interest, or by the presence of heritage resources” subject to consultation with the Provincial Heritage Authority and the relevant property owners.

Identification of heritage resources.
Section 30(5): “At the time of a compilation of a town or regional planning scheme or a spatial plan, a planning authority shall compile an inventory of the heritage resources which fall within its area of jurisdiction and submit such an inventory to the relevant heritage authority

Integration of heritage into planning.
Section 28(6): “A local authority may with the agreement of the heritage resources authority which designated a protected area make provision in its town planning scheme or in by-laws for the management of such areas.”

Protection of heritage resources
Section 31(7) “A local authority must provide for the protection of heritage areas through its zoning scheme/by-laws, and the local authority may (Section 54) make by-laws regulating access, use, protection, management, incentives and fines for resources protected under the Act”
Section 44 (1): (a-e) “Heritage Resources Authorities and local authorities must wherever appropriate, co-ordinate and promote the presentation and use of places of cultural significance and heritage resources which form part of the national estate and for which they are responsible.”
This means that municipalities are involved in heritage management and are responsible for heritage within the legal geographical jurisdiction of a municipality. Local government in collaboration with provincial and national government are all part of the resource management of heritage.


Visit the following websites to learn more about world heritage policies and the management of heritage resources:

References: 2020. Celebrating South Africa’S Living Human Treasures - The Custodians Of Our Intangible Cultural Heritage | Department Of Sport, Arts And Culture. 2020. Minister Nathi Mthethwa: Launch For Heritage Month
Kurniawan, Heri & Salim, Agus & Suhartanto, Heru & Hasibuan, Zainal. (2011). E-Cultural Heritage and Natural History Framework: An Integrated approach to Digital Preservation 2020. Integrated Metropolitan Environmental Policy (IMEP). Cultural Heritage Strategy for the City of Cape Town. 2020. National Heritage Resources Act, Act 25 of 1999, Government Gazette, 28 April 1999.
Stefano, M., 2019. Folklife At The International Level: Roots Of Intangible Cultural Heritage Part VII, Treasures | Folklife Today. [online] 2020. Safeguarding Communities’ Living Heritage | United Nations Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organization Guidelines for the Establishment of National “Living Human Treasures” Systems.


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