15 July 2005

South Africa awarded seventh world heritage site

More than two billion years after it slammed into the middle of South Africa, a gigantic lump of rock was officially welcomed to the Earth on Thursday with champagne and a raucous cacophony of vuvuzela blasts.

This was no ordinary rock. Bigger and heavier than Mount Everest, and flying through space faster than a fighter jet, its impact buckled, twisted and melted the ground to form a crater almost 380km wide in the northern corner of the Free State.

And unlike the smaller Mexican meteorite which is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs many millions of years later, the South African meteorite helped to give birth to complex new life forms by raising the world's oxygen levels.

Time has not been kind to our famous old rock now known as the Vredefort Dome. Most of it has been eroded away with the passing of millions and millions of years – although part of its inner circle is still clearly visible in the scenic range of hills near the towns of Parys and Vredefort.

And in Durban on Thursday, in the presence of several hundred delegates from around the world, the Vredefort Dome was recognised by the World Heritage Committee as a formation of "outstanding universal value".

It joins nearly 800 other noteworthy sites such as the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China.

The Vredefort Dome also became South Africa's seventh world heritage site.

Tourism and Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced that R18-million of poverty relief funding had been allocated as seed funding for the Vredefort Dome project.

The money would be used to build a tourist centre and hiking trail, and to rehabilitate the site by removing alien tree infestations. He was confident that the Dome’s new global status would help to bring many new jobs to the regions.

A survey had shown that before the listing as the Cradle of Humankind, there were only 68 privately owned tourist businesses in the vicinity. But two years after the Gauteng world heritage site was declared, there were now more than 270 such tourist businesses.

Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan also expressed confidence that the Makapaans Valley and Taung fossil sites would be added to the existing Cradle of Humankind heritage site listing late on Thursday or Friday morning.

The World Heritage Committee is also expected to name several other new sites at the Durban meeting – including the famous Whale Valley of Egypt, India's Valley of Flowers, Japan's Shiretoko marine peninsula and two scenic Norwegian fjords.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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