Unesco, international experts grumbling at SA government about fiasco at Vredefort Dome

Dr Pieter Mulder

The Vredefort Dome which should be a heritage jewel for South Africa with which thousands of visitors could be lured to the country annually, has now become an international embarrassment where millions of rand of taxpayers’ money have been wasted over the last couple of years, Dr. Pieter Mulder, Leader of the FF Plus said.

The possibility is even being mentioned that Unesco (the educational, scientific and cultural organisation of the United Nations) could withdraw its classification of the area as a world heritage area due to the lack of cooperation from the ANC government.

According to the web page of Unesco, a deadline of the 1st of February of this year was given to the government to meet certain requirements. This was not done.

The Vredefort Dome originated approximately 200 million years ago when a asteroid with a diameter of nearly 10km wide collided with the earth at a speed of roughly 150 000 km/h. The earth’s surface was nearly 17 km higher at the time than it appears to be presently.

A crater of nearly 100 km wide and much deeper resulted from the impact. Erosion has led to it nearly being disappearing in the mean time. It remains the best example of a massive impact scene on earth and is therefore extremely valuable for scientific research.

After the FF Plus had received numerous complaints in this regard, the minister of tourism, Mr. Derek Hanekom responded to a written question in Parliament that an amount of R11,7 million had been allocated for a visitor’s centre.

Construction was completed in August 2008, but the quality was so poor that it could never be used. Minister Hanekom had said that it was so poorly constructed that it would be perilous to enter the building.

Tour guides from Vredefort and Parys who visit the area often say the building and surrounding roads are completely dilapidated. The building has been completely stripped by vandals and homeless people have moved into the building.

According to media reports at the time, R18 million in total had been set aside for the centre to make the area tourist-friendly with, amongst others, walkways and information boards. Of this, there is also nothing to be seen.

From discussions with experts such as Dr. Craig Smith, executive head of the Geological Society of South Africa, and according to the Unesco Website, it appears that Unesco has just listed the are as a world heritage site. This already happened in 2005.

South Africa had to take various steps thereafter, such as developing the area and through legislation have it proclaimed as a heritage site. Only when this had happened, Unesco could declare it as a world heritage site.

Unesco itself does not mince its words in their letters and says that the opposite has actually taken place and that the area is in the mean time ‘being purposefully destroyed’. Some of the other problems which Unesco lists include illegal practices, poor or absent management systems and management plan, groundwater pollution, especially in the Vaal River, theft and vandalism and a lack of tourism management and access.

Unesco last year set a deadline of 1 February of this year for the South African government to meet the requirements, but from, amongst others, the minister Hanekom’s response, it is clear that nothing had been done about it.

Dr. Mulder says the government will have to account for the misappropriation of funds.

“We want to know how it was used. To whom did the government give more than R11 million for the poor construction work? Where are the other millions which had to be used for other developments?

“Moreover, the government will have to explain to the South African public why they seemingly do not attach any value to something as important as a world heritage site. After R18 million had been stripped, the ANC’s interest in the area appears to have disappeared along with the money,” Dr. Mulder said.


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