On the 16th of December 2013, South Africa will be celebrating the centenary of the Union
Buildings which has recently been declared a national heritage site by the South African
Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), in terms of Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources
Act (No. 25 of 1999). The criteria to qualify a site as stipulated by the Act include the historical,
aesthetic, scientific and social value as well as its rarity and vulnerability, a criterion that
qualified the Union Buildings as a national heritage site.
The mandate of SAHRA is to identify, protect and promote heritage resources in South Africa.
SAHRA is the only mandated organization to grade and declare heritage sites in accordance with
the National Resources Act (No.25 of 1999).
The historic value , qualifying the Union Buildings as a national heritage site is based on its role
on the political, cultural and social history of South Africa, exhibiting richness, diversity and
importance in the evolution of the nation. Regarded as one of the stateliest buildings in the
country, it has remained a symbol of the Presidency and the seat of power of the Republic of
In its very conception the Union Buildings was intended to be special and to occupy a significant
place not only in the nation’s capital, Pretoria, but also in the political life of South Africa. Its
very design symbolised the union between the two rival white groups in South Africa: the
English and the Afrikaner.
The two wings of the Union Buildings and their meeting point at the semi-circular
colonnade/rotunda symbolises explicitly the unity of the two groups (and implicitly the
exclusion of the black majority). Yet in 1994, the building was to be a symbol for reconciliation 2
and peace between the black and white South Africans and an emblem for democracy. In 1994,
the Union Buildings were occupied by Nelson Mandela and his cabinet as the first democratically
elected President, a turning point in the political history of South Africa.
The design of the building as an urban acropolis on the highest point of the city, dominating the
surrounding hills of the urban landscape brings and its high level of legibility emphasising its
stateliness and significance defines a particular set of set of aesthetic values and cultural
Besides the grand architecture, the integration of the buildings with the landscape are both
excellent examples of historic styles and the different monuments and memorials that
contribute to the historic setting. The beauty and majesty of the Union Buildings is enhanced by
the gardens, which were planted over a period of 7 years. The layout and planting of the
grounds were completed in 1919 and the plants used in the gardens were mostly indigenous
although 31 dozen roses were imported from England and other plants from the Netherlands.
The Scientific Value of the site is that it has the potential of yielding information that will
contribute to an understanding of scientific aspects of our natural and cultural heritage. This
value is found in the construction technology and innovation as well as the botanical history of
the gardens and landscaping. It is an example of a prototype of a new kind of public building
that later became fashionable during the first half of the 20th century in South Africa, and
internationally. Many plants on the site date back to the time of botanical exploration and some
good examples of rare species can be found, in areas such as the Flanagan Arboretum. The
presence of the natural koppie, Meintjeskop, provides the opportunity to contribute to scientific
understanding of biodiversity or geodiversity.
The Union Buildings constitutes places where national and international visitors can learn not
only about the political the history of South Africa, but also the natural and cultural history,
about landscape, art and architecture.
Socially, the Union Buildings has strong and special associations with the South African
community and different cultural groups for social, cultural, political, symbolic, aesthetic and
educational reasons. The symbolism of its design elements, demography of tenants and themes
of its monuments and memorials and, particularly, its role as the site of some of the most
incisive social fabric changing actions, further underwrites the Union Buildings as a space of 3
profound significance. These include the historic largest demonstration that was staged by over
20 000 women, who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to present a pertition
against carrying of passes by women to Prime Minister JG Strijdom.
In terms of Rarity, the site houses an uncommon and rare structure and part of a special urban
and political landscape. No other site captures the public imagination like the Union Buildings. It
is a window to South Africa’s political, historic and social life with local and international
According to the Acting CEO of SAHRA, “Preservation and management of the building due to its
vulnerability, cultural and economic value is critical. The gardens of the Union Buildings and
Meintjeskop are a popular venue for leisure, formal and large scale events associated with the seat
of Government, as SAHRA we will ensure that the protection of the site will include all the elements
that make the landscape and not merely the architectural components of the complex”.