In August 2005, in conjunction with the Getty Conservation Institute's Southern African Rock Art Project, the Institute and its South African partners undertook a two-week site management workshop and a three-week guide training course at two South African World Heritage Sites: the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in the north and the Cederberg Wilderness Area in the south. The objectives of the Southern African Rock Art Project are to build capacity and create awareness of the significance of rock art in the southern African subcontinent through developing interpretation and management plans for sites, and to enhance education and tourism as a model for sustainable conservation and community participation.
Rock art is frequently overlooked as a ubiquitous heritage. It is not only often of exquisite beauty but also reflects ancient ways of communication, healing, and the origins of religion, which are still poorly understood. Across the southern African subcontinent, there exists one of the great bodies of rock art paintings and engravings. Created primarily by the San hunter-gatherer peoples, the paintings typically occur in natural rock shelters, often in mountain fastnesses. Some date to deep antiquity. A decline in the creation of this art began with the arrival of the Bantu peoples from the north and continued with pressure from the much later European settlement of the area, so that by the nineteenth century, art was probably being created only in very remote and isolated regions.
The preservation of paintings on rock surfaces is a great challenge, since there are so many threats to the work—weathering, collecting, and destroying. One key to preserving this art is the involvement of local communities around the sites. When sites of centuries-long local significance are removed from their traditional owners and given over to government agencies for care and management, the result has been alienation of these communities and adverse consequences for the art.
The Mapungubwe course organized by the GCI in partnership with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and South African National Parks, both national authorities, focused on site management workshops for the many scattered sites within the boundaries of the park. This newly declared national park, protected by national legislation, provides an opportunity for integrating cultural heritage management with the natural heritage of an ecologically diverse region. Participating in these workshops were staff from South African National Parks and professionals from Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Tanzania.
In the Cederberg Wilderness Area, the focus was on rock art guide training for young people. Here, the training course was run in conjunction with the Living Landscape Project, based in the historic town of Clanwilliam, to the north of Cape Town. Formal training was undertaken by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, with content provided by consultant Dr. Janette Deacon and Professor John Parkington from the University of Cape Town. With a rich San rock art heritage, Cederberg was chosen as an area in which disadvantaged youth could acquire accredited guiding skills. Participants from other southern African countries as far afield as Tanzania were among the twenty trainees.
In summer 2006, the Southern African Rock Art Project will return to the two areas to continue guide training and the development of site management plans. Activities at the two sites will be reversed. Mapungubwe will be the focus of training for rock art guides, including guides from private game ranches surrounding the park that are also rich in rock art sites. At Clanwilliam, the focus will be on developing site management and presentation and interpretation plans for the sites.