Canteen Kopje

Scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa have opposed a mining operation near the Canteen Kopje heritage site, close to Barkly West in the Northern Cape, saying it may threaten the site.

Researchers from Wits’ Archaeological Department are working with the key stakeholders at the McGregor Museum, Sol Plaatje University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Pennsylvania to save the key research, as well as the tourism site.

In March 2016, a private diamond mining company commenced work in a sensitive area of the site without obtaining permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).

The scientists said that the operation without permit of SAHRA is a direct contravention of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) (Act 25 of 1999).

The company has been erecting fencing that includes the existing excavations by Wits scientists’ team and by the University of Toronto, as well as part of the site developed for tourism.

"All gazetted heritage sites in this country require a permit from SAHRA if they are to be disturbed in any way."

This is blocking access to the public and to the archaeologists.

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University of the Witwatersrand Archaeological Department professor Kathleen Kuman said: "This continued threat of mining and the activities of illegal miners over the years threaten to destroy both the ancient and more recent heritage of our country, along with the opportunity for our local students to further develop our knowledge of this important heritage."

"All gazetted heritage sites in this country require a permit from SAHRA if they are to be disturbed in any way, hence this mining company is in contravention of an Act of the Republic of South Africa."

"For the sake of short-term financial gain in diamond mining, the long-term, more sustainable benefits to heritage tourism and to the archaeological research of much international importance are being jeopardised."

Image: Archaeological site of Canteen Kopje in South Africa. Photo: courtesy of 120 / V. Mourre, Inrap.