South Africa’s newest and 10th World Heritage Site, the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, is one of the world’s oldest geological structures dating back 3.25 to 3.6 billion years.
The site covers an area of 113 137 hectares. It’s located in the southeastern corner of Mpumalanga province and has the oldest and best-preserved sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rocks on earth.
Situated on the site is Umphakatsi Peace Ecovillage, which works with the local community to teach them about the value of heritage and sustainable development.
Sarah Motha, founder of the ecovillage, said: “As Umphakatsi Peace Ecovillage is sitting on top of this heritage, a rock that burnt at 1 600°C, it’s important that the local rural communities spread between Steynsdorp to Barberton are ethically informed with substantive value of the area wherein lies the cradle of life where the ecosystems started breathing as the rock solidified.”
Motha said heritage for indigenous communities was significant so that they can value what they inherently have to use for sustainable development.
“We know that if communities do not know the value of the heritage they have, it’s easy to allow mining companies and other extractive industries to abuse natural resources and leave behind permanent damage to the environment,” she said.
“Yet, if heritage knowledge is passed to generations, the planetary well-being will be sustained and balanced.
“We’re clear on the definition of the value of this heritage as the ecovillage movement, namely ecological and green economic values at the basics of all.”
It is the only place on Earth where the development of the early Earth and evolution of life itself can be studied and forms a diverse repository of information on surface conditions, meteorite impacts, volcanism, continent-building processes, and the environment of early life.
The site was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in July last year.
The area is of “… natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. As such, the permanent protection of this heritage is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole,” according to the Unesco World Heritage Council guidelines.
It is only the fourth natural property in South Africa, the others are cultural (five) and mixed (one) properties. They include Robben Island‚ the Cape floral kingdom (fynbos) and the Cradle of Humankind.
Makhonjwa comprises 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, one of the world’s oldest geological structures. These outcrops provide a globally unique source of information about the earliest measurable conditions of the earth’s gradually solidifying oceanic crust, from 3.5 billion years ago.
“From these rocks, more has been learned than from anywhere else about the surface processes at work as the earth cooled from a molten body, to the creation of the primitive biosphere,” said Unesco.