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Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape: World Heritage Site

Northern Cape, South Africa
World Heritage 

The 160 000ha Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape of dramatic mountainous desert in north-western South Africa is communally owned and managed. This site sustains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people, reflecting seasonal patterns that may have persisted for as long as two millennia in southern Africa. It is the only area where the Nama still construct portable rush-mat houses (haru om). The pastoralists collect medicinal and other plants and have a strong oral tradition associated with the landscape. It is a land of extreme temperatures characterised by a harsh, dry landscape.

What is exceptional, both in South African and international terms, is that the community that runs the landscape has chosen to dedicate it to conservation. Up until recently the Nama had little to show for themselves. Their ancestors were pushed further and further north of the Western and Northern Cape – their land of origin – until only a few years ago when the Richtersveld area was returned to their ownership under the country’s land-restitution programme.

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is bordered by a number of areas, ensuring its further protection. These include the Richtersveld National Park, the Nababiep Provincial Nature Reserve, and designated communal grazing areas that allow the Nama to continue their semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle.

Today the Nama people live in three small villages – Kuboes, Lekkersing and Eksteenfontein – just outside of the proclaimed area. The endangered Karoo vegetation, characterised by succulents, is protected by the seasonal migratory behaviour of the Nama, who move between stock-posts. The spacious communal grazed lands are a living example of a partnership between people and nature. The Nama are now its last practitioners. Their seasonal pastoral grazing regimes, which sustain the extensive biodiversity of the area, were once much more widespread and are now vulnerable.

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Northern Cape