World Heritage Site

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg park is the largest protected area (world heritage site) on the great escarpment of the southern Africa. It is located in an inland mountain along the eastern border of Lesotho. It comprises a northern and a significantly larger southern section. The mountainous area between these two sections, known as the Mnweni area, is tribal land. The park can be divided into two distinct physiographic regions: the foothills of the ‘little berg’ are steep-sided spurs, escarpments and valleys occurring below 2 000 m in elevation, whereas the high main escarpment rises to over 3 400 m.

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg park is a 243 500 hectare world heritage site, stretching from royal natal in the north to garden castle in the south. It has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts. Its altitudes and undulating terrains contribute to its beauty and uniqueness. This heritage site protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species of flora and fauna (birds and plants). The park plays a very significant role not only in economy of the local economy but also on a provincial and national scale. The uKhahlamba park produces high quality water, which flow from the Drakensberg catchment and also serves as the core destination for the tourism industry. It also forms part of the key component of the maloti Drakenberg trandfrontier project that was initiate as a collaborative project between the government of South Africa and of Lesotho.


The uKhahlamba Drakensberg park is one of the most important archaeological areas in southern Africa. It contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of rare paintings in Africa which were made by the san people over a period of 4 000 years.

The rock paintings are outstanding in quality and are culturally informative as they show their depiction of animals and human beings and translate certain aspects of the san culture and beliefs.


Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is the mandated management entity for the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.

The Drakensberg region is one of the most important archaeological areas in southern Africa and presents many opportunities for recreation activities, ranging from nature to facility orientated extremes. As such, the need for development control has been identified as a critical element in the future preservation of the natural character of the area. In addition, the united nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation (unesco) designated the uKhahlamba Drakensberg park world heritage site as a world heritage site in November 2000.

The location of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg park world heritage site (udp whs/park) is along the eastern boundary of the kingdom of Lesotho and the western boundary of Kwazulu Natal province in south africa. It is bordered by seven local municipalities on the Kwazulu natal province side, namely the Okhahlamba lm, Nkosi Langalibalele lm, Mpofana lm, Umngeni lm, Impendle lm, Kwasani lm and greater Kokstad lm.

The park extends for approximately 150 km from the royal natal national park in the north, to Bushmans neck in the south. The park is a thin crescent shaped area that is 28 km wide at its widest portion. It consists of 243 000 hectare and significantly meets the criteria for both cultural and natural properties.

In terms of the world heritage convention act no. 49 of 1999, the Kwazulu-Natal nature conservation board was appointed as the park authority. The boards implementing agency is Ezemvelo KZN wildlife.

The significance of the area relates to three aspects, namely:
  • The rock art of the Drakensberg is the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara and is outstanding both in quality and diversity of subject.
  • The San people lived in the mountainous Drakensberg area for more than four millennia, leaving behind them a corpus of outstanding rock art which throws much light on their way of life and their beliefs.
  • The site has exceptional natural beauty with soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. Rolling high altitude grasslands, the pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges also contribute to the beauty of the site. The site’s diversity of habitats protects high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially of birds and plants.

To protect the heritage site, a buffer zone needed to be established. This was done in accordance to section 28(2) (a) of the protected areas act 57 of 2003, which makes provision for the establishment of such a zone. In the context of the UDP WHS, the buffer zone is defined as follows:

Buffer Zone: Demarcated areas 
(i) proximate to the Protected Area,
(ii) which are of high biodiversity, cultural heritage, water and landscape importance,
(iii) where ownership vests with private bodies or (indirectly) local user communities,
(iv) where land management rights vest in parties other than exclusively in conservation specific agencies, and where
(v) land management is approached as a partnership between conservation authorities and those with use rights.

In the context of the UDP WHS, the buffer zone is located outside the conservation (protected) area and the ownership of the land adjacent to the conservation/ protected area, vests in an amalgam of private owners and communal lands falling under the custodianship of the Ingonyama Trust.

The owners and current users have rights that must be recognized and worked with, which imply that co-management and partnership in the buffer zone is critical. In addition to the guidelines for the buffer zone, the increasing pressure of development and inappropriate land use adjacent to the park that could impact negatively on its integrity was recognised by the KZN planning commission. They produced a special case area plan (scap), which has not been afforded statutory status. However, a number of its recommendations have been used by some municipalities adjacent to the udp whs in their spatial development frameworks.

Previously, planning approaches that were used, similar to the buffer zone concept, included the following:

  •  The Drakensberg Policy Statement (TRPC. 1976);
  • The Southern Drakensberg Policy Statement (TRPC. 1981); and
  • The Drakensberg Approaches Policy (TRPC.1990).

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