The heritage resources of South Africa have lasting value in their own right and provide evidence of the origins of South African society. These heritage resources are valuable, finite, non-renewable and irreplaceable and they must be carefully managed to ensure their survival (National Heritage Resources Act (No. 25 of 1999) s. 5(1)(a)). According to the act, heritage resources may not be excavated, damaged, destroyed or otherwise impacted by any development without prior assessment and without a permit from the relevant heritage resources authority.
The National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) has introduced an integrated system for the identification, assessment and management of the heritage resources of South Africa. The NHRA makes provision for the general protection of heritage resources:
- Section 34 in respect of the built environment;
- Section 35 in respect of archaeology, palaeontology and meteorites; and
- Section 36 in respect of graves and burial grounds.
As areas are developed and landscapes are modified, heritage resources, including palaeontological resources, are threatened. As such, both the environmental and heritage legislation require that development activities must be preceded by an assessment of the impact undertaken by qualified professionals, such as the likes of the Eco Elementum team.
- The Heritage Impact Assessments (HIA) are intended to ensure that all heritage resources are protected, and where it is not possible to preserve them in situ, appropriate mitigation measures are applied.
- A HIA is a comprehensive study that comprises a palaeontological, archaeological, built environment, living heritage, etc specialist studies.
- Palaeontologists must acknowledge this and ensure that they collaborate with other heritage practitioners.