Heritage Protection

South Africa has a rich cultural heritage which is largely unprotected, unknown, and undiscovered. Furthermore, many communities residing in those areas that have declared National Heritage Sites are unaware of the intrinsic value of those sites or how to manage and protect them. South African Heritage Resources Agency has been given a mandate by the National Heritage Resources Act, Act No. 25 of 1999, to protect, monitor and, manage the country’s heritage resources, while also providing, guidance to the communities who are reside in those area where there are National Heritage Sites.



Section 50 of the South African Heritage Resources Act, Act No 25 of 1999, gives SAHRA a mandate to use the Heritage Inspector to inspect and, monitor the heritage sites that comprise the national estates, and provide advocacy to endure their safeguarding. Where there are contraventions of the act the inspectors will investigate, issue contraventions and, prohibition notices, issue penalties where necessary and refer cases to court for prosecution.

Role of the Inspector

On the occasion of the first visit to any heritage site in a given year, inspectors will make a full assessment of the state of compliance with heritage legislation, covering all relevant social relations and social protection provisions, and also assessing the condition of the heritage site.

If the destruction is not evidently serious, and if the inspector has grounds to believe that the damage will be corrected/prevented by a given deadline and be reasonably co-operative in future, advocacy (structured information and advice on the best way of complying) will be the primary means of intervention, together with clear, written instructions on how to comply, and in what time-frame to do so.

If the inspector decides to prosecute the person, structured advocacy on the reasons for doing so will be given. This will include information on the person legal obligations, on the consequences of continued non-compliance, and on the time-frame for rectification. The reasons for prosecution will be laid down in writing for him or her.

As far as is reasonably possible, the inspector will also take the amount of damage into consideration when deciding on prosecution. Whilst the law applies to all, the inspectors can be more flexible towards the person, in particular regarding deadlines for compliance with minor violations.

As far as possible, the inspector will consult with any representatives (person, community, entity) by informing them of any violations of heritage legislation encountered and what further action he/she intends to take. In the event that the inspector detects violations but decides to give advice or information only (always together with written compliance instructions and a time-frame), possibly combined with a written warning (structured advocacy), a follow-up visit no later than one month after the compliance deadline has elapsed, is in principle obligatory, unless “force majeure” prevents it from taking place in time.

If, on the occasion of a such follow-up visit, the inspector finds that the person, in spite of the previous assurances, has taken no significant steps towards compliance and rectification of the violations noted earlier, the inspector will as a matter of strict policy initiate prosecution measures, again combined with structured advocacy, to inform the person once more of his legal obligations, and of the reasons for now prosecuting. Only in exceptional, clearly justified cases, when the person shows valid reasons and documentary evidence for having had to delay compliance (“force majeure”) will the inspector once more give only structured advocacy, combined with a written warning to comply, and a further, final deadline for doing so.


Why Protecting National Heritage Sites

National Heritage Sites needs protection in order to:

  • Safe guard them from destruction, damage, disfigurement, excavation or alteration;
  • Regulate the conditions of use of any heritage site or the conditions for any development thereof;
  • Regulate the admission of the members of the public to a heritage site, and the fees payable for such admission.
  • To provide information and advice on our heritage law and to inform stakeholders about the law.
  • To ensure compliance with the NHRA and conduct both re-active (i.e. when dealing with complaints) and pro-active (identify areas of non-compliance and advise on corrective action) inspections to ensure that the law is complied with.


What is the Community Involvement in the  Protection of National Heritage Sites

  • Communities are the custodians of the National Heritage Sites in their area and these sites have an intrinsic value and history attached to them.
  • Communities know their own, local sites better than the visitors who came and enjoy the site.
  • They have a technical know- how of how to manage and conserve the sites.
  • They need to safeguard the sites by being the eyes and ears on the ground to assist with the prevention of damage to sites.
  • Communities need to report any such damage to SAHRA and the police.
  • They need to conduct social consultations; the general public need to participate in the management and protection of the National Heritage Sites.
  • They need to educate each other and also be educated by SAHRA on how to manage and protect the sites.
  • They need to be involved in the research and documentation of the significant value of the sites.
  • They need to promote and disseminate information about the significant value of the sites with SAHRA assistance.


The main objective of the Grading and Declarations function within the Heritage Protection Unit is to coordinate and assist with the identification, assessment and conservation management planning of heritage resources nominated for National Declaration in terms of Sections 27 (1) and 32 (1) of the NHRA (Act 25 of 1999). The Unit provides administrative, planning, coordination and monitoring support to the Heritage Conservation Management Units to ensure the efficient and effective declaration of such diverse resources as sites, objects, shipwrecks and graves.

Anyone (SAHRA or any member of the public) may identify and nominate places or objects which may have exceptional qualities to be declared nationally. The nomination will start the process of declaration and can be done with the submission of the nomination to SAHRA either on SAHRIS and/or by completing the relevant nomination form and emailing it to or posting to PO Box 4637; Cape Town; 8001 for attention Grading and Declaration. Please click on the “How to Nominate a Site or Object” on the homepage for more information

There is two main processes to the declaration of heritage resources; namely GRADING and DECLARATION. Both these processes are thorough and can be somewhat lengthy, ensuring that proper research is conducted about the resource’s significance, management, and sustainability.


The first step is to grade the resource.

This is the assessment of the heritage significance and the determination of the relevant authority to administer the declaration.

Please note that heritage objects/collections are not graded in the same way that places are, but are still subjected to rigorous assessment of the significance and sustainability.

Section 7 of the National Heritage Resources Act, Act no 25 of 1999, differentiates between a 3 tier system of managing heritage resources as such:

Grade 1 – Resources with qualities so exceptional that they are of special national significance – administered by SAHRA
Grade 2 – Resources significant within the context of a province – administered by the relevant Provincial Heritage Authority (PHRA)
Grade 3 – Resources significant to a particular community – administered by the relevant local municipality.

Grading requires substantial verification of information provided and assessment into the history of the place, verification of site boundaries for the declaration, the significance and desirability of declaration. Grading is not a formal protection but allows the relevant authority to conduct the necessary processes for a formal declaration of the site as a National, Provincial or Local Heritage Site.

All nominations (grading submission) received by SAHRA are reviewed by SAHRA’s Grading and Declarations Review Committee. Should the resource be deemed to have Grade 1 (National) significance, the nomination is forwarded to the SAHRA Council for Grade 1 approval. Should the resource not be deemed to have Grade 1 significance, the nomination will be referred to the relevant PHRA.


The second step is to declare the resource;

This is the formal recognition and Protection of the Resource.

Once the resource is graded as having national significance (Grade 1), SAHRA will then start the process of the declaration.

Should heritage objects or collections be deemed to have such valuable significance to South Africa that SAHRA deems it necessary to control the export of such an object/collection, SAHRA will then proceed with the declaration processes.

This includes extensive public notification and participation. As a community and public participation is important in the management of our heritage, the legislation has a powerful component in which communities and interested and affected parties must be consulted before a resource can be declared, including obtaining the landowner’s / owner’s opinion and representation. All parties are given at least 60 days to respond and make submissions regarding the proposed declaration, amendment or withdrawal.

Another important component to the declaration process is the conservation management planning of the resource. This will ensure that the resource is well managed and the significance is sustained and will be for the nominator’s responsibility. Guidelines for the development of a conservation management plan is available from SAHRA.

Once SAHRA’s Council has approved the declaration, a notice is published in the Government Gazette declaring the site as a National Heritage Site or the object/ collection a Specifically Declared Heritage Object/Collection. The resource is then declared and protected.

Once the site has been formally declared, no person may, without a permit from the relevant authority (Section 27 (18))
– Destroy, damage, deface, excavate or alter the site
– Remove from it original position
– Subdivide or change the planning status of the site.

Once the heritage object/collection has been declared, no person may destroy, damage disfigure or alter any heritage object or disperse any collection without a permit from SAHRA (Section 32 (13)).

It is also the responsibility of the owner or custodian of the object/collection to keep it in good condition and secure (Section 32 (15)). Should there be any loss, or damage to the object/collection the owner or custodian must immediately notify SAHRA (Section 32 (16).


Complaints mailbox

For any complaints please contact the Heritage Protection Unit:  


Nkosazana Queenie Machete

Nkosazana Queenie Machete


Heidi Weldon

Heidi Weldon

Grading and Declaration – Heritage Officer

Kim Ngobeni

Kim Ngobeni

Heritage Officer

Responsible for