In terms of the Section 39 of the National Heritage Resources Act, No. 25 of 1999, SAHRA is required to compile and maintain an inventory of the national estate, defined as heritage resources of cultural and other significance.
This inventory must be in the form of a database of information on heritage resources, and may include:
- all places and objects protected through the publication of notices in the National Gazette or Provincial Gazette, whether in terms of this Act or provincial legislation;
- places and objects subject to general protections in terms of this Act or provincial legislation for the management of heritage resources;
- any other place and object which it considers to be of heritage significance; and
- all places and objects with which it and its predecessors have been involved.
In addition to maintaining the existing National Inventory database, SAHRA undertakes several projects for the purposes of consolidating, coordinating and increasing the volume of information on heritage resources maintained on the database. One such project is the National Audit Project, which is run by SAHRA, with funding from the Department of Arts and Culture,to establish a digital inventory of heritage resources in State-ownership. A number of collections varying from beadwork and artworks to antique furniture are identified and investigated for possible inclusion in the Project in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
The development of the South African Heritage Resources Information System (SAHRIS), which serves as the digital repository for heritage resources information in the country, was also undertaken under the auspices of the National Inventory Unit and with DAC funding. This online platform, which is freely available to the public, serves as the means by which the public can apply for heritage comment or permits for building, mining and development applications; obtain permits for archaeological and palaeontological excavation and research; permits for the export of heritage objects and for the nomination of sites as National Heritage Sites.
It furthermore houses the database of the National Inventory, comprising heritage sites, objects and other resources. This function is linked to the collections management application of the site, which provides a comprehensive online tool for museums to house their digital repositories and manage assessments of the movements and conditions of their collections. Its final role is as a national, integrated database of heritage crime, allowing for collaboration between stakeholders, heritage officers and law enforcement agencies to combat this problem.