A REPORT ON A CULTURAL HERITAGE IMPACT ASSESSMENT FOR THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT OF UPMARKET TOURISM ACCOMMODATION ON THE SELATI RAILWAY BRIDGE, SKUKUZA, KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, MPUMALANGA PROVINCE
The South African National Parks identified the opportunity for the utilization of existing infrastructure associated with the Selati Railway Line and Bridge in and adjacent to the Skukuza Rest Kamp in the Kruger National Park and invited interested investors/developers to submit proposals and to tender for the opportunity. Kruger Selati (Pty) Ltd, a member of the Thebe Group submitted the winning bid and are now in the process of applying for the required environmental authorization to proceed with their development plans.
Archaetnos cc was requested by Kruger Selati (Pty) Ltd to conduct a cultural heritage impact assessment (HIA) for the proposed development of upmarket tourism accommodation on the Selati railway bridge at Skukuza. This is in the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga Province.
The proposed development is planned to be located on the Selati Railway Bridge and within existing footprints adjacent to the Bridge and the Selati Railway Line in and adjacent to the Skukuza Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park at central GPS Co-ordinates 24°59’30.81″S and 31°35’49.15″E. The site is within the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality, the Ehlanzeni District Municipality and the Mpumalanga Province.
The methodology for the study includes a survey of literature and a field survey. The latter was conducted according to generally accepted HIA practices and was aimed at locating all possible objects, sites and features of cultural significance in the area of proposed development.
If required, the location/position of any site was determined by means of a Global Positioning System (GPS), while photographs were also taken where needed. The survey was undertaken by doing a physical survey on foot and covered as much as possible of the area to be studied. Certain factors, such as accessibility, density of vegetation, etc. may however influence the coverage.
All sites, objects, features and structures identified were documented according to the general minimum standards accepted by the archaeological profession. Co-ordinates of individual localities were determined by means of the GPS. The information was added to the description in order to facilitate the identification of each locality.
Public consultation was done by the EAP.
During the survey three sites/ features of cultural heritage significance were identified.
- All three identified sites are regarded as having a field rating of Local Grade IIIB. These should all be included in the heritage register and may be mitigated (high/ medium significance). Mitigation is subject to permit applications lodged with the relevant heritage
- Site 1 (the railway bridge) and 2 (the locomotive and carriage) should be regarded as integrated components.
- Both may therefore be utilized for the proposed development. However, strict controls need to be implemented to ensure that it is not damaged in the process.
- Detailed plans indicating the interventions should be approved by SAHRA and a Cultural Management Plan (CMP) for the sustainable preservation, management and utilisation of both be drafted and approved by SAHRA. The CMP can only be done during and after construction on site in order to facilitate the appropriate conservation, preservation and sustainable management principals related to the historical components of the site.
- In principle nothing that would be a permanent intervention to the bridge structure should be allowed. The view from the Skukuza rest camp should also be left untouched as far as possible, expect perhaps for minor interventions. It should be noted however that the railway carriages will be placed permanently on the bridge. The exterior of these will be left as close to its historical look and therefore it would enhance the heritage significance of the railway bridge and precinct. It needs to be ensured that no other permanent additions should be allowed. This means that any addition, e.g. lookout platforms and related infrastructure may only be ‘hooked on’ to the bridge and should be reversible. This indeed is the included in the current project plan.
- Later additions to the bridge, such as cables and pipes, which have lost its functionality, should be removed. The pump house may be reused and changed since it does not form part of the original construction. The plan indeed is to remove redundant services, e.g. the old telephone line, rusted water pipes etc., but the water supply to the airport from Skukuza must obviously remain.
- In principle nothing that would be a permanent intervention to both the interior and exterior of the locomotive and carriage currently at the station should be allowed. However, some changes have been made in the past and these needs to be taken into consideration. This means that historical features should be kept as far as possible. Changes should only be allowed when it is entirely unavoidable or when it impacts on features which had already been changed in the past and therefore had already been compromised to some extent.
- Since the Sabi Bridge site of Steinaecker’s Horse has unexcavated sections and is very close to the development, the developer needs to ensure that it is not impacted. Currently it seems it will not be impacted directly, but negotiations with the concessionaire is still in process. Bearing this in mind, a buffer zone of at least 20 m should be implemented. In order to do this the exact perimeters of the site should be determined.
- Should it be impossible to avoid the site (even partially) an assessment should be made of what exactly are in danger of being impacted. This section of the site, if not excavated before, should then be excavated in order to document these remains. A final report on the excavations, if implemented, should be submitted to SAHRA.
- It would be reasonable to include information about all three heritage features and its history in a display at the development. It is an area with a rich history which should be utilised to the benefit of visitors and the public in general. The plan indeed is to have a media facility on the Skukuza side to facilitate interpretative and media exposure. This mitigation within the project will enhance heritage and as such conserve heritage assets that may otherwise deteriorate, as well as expose the history to the public that otherwise may have been overlooked.
- Resultantly, the developer will have to implement a ‘Watching brief’ with a heritage expert doing regular inspections of the work during the implementation phase and working together with the team to ensure the above mentioned. The scope for this brief should include the bridge, historical rolling stock and the Sabi Bridge site of Steinaecker’s Horse ensuring that the cultural and heritage integrity thereof is not compromised.
- A final report of interventions, including a CMP, should be delivered to SAHRA on completion of the project.
- The former SANDF building on the northern side of the bridge is less than 60 years and may therefore be demolished without any further heritage approval. Of course, it may also be utilised as part of the mentioned media facility.
- It should be noted that the subterranean presence of archaeological and/or historical sites, features or artifacts is always a distinct possibility. Due to the density of vegetation it also is possible that some sites may only become known later on. Operating controls and monitoring should therefore be aimed at the possible unearthing of such features. Care should therefore be taken when development commences that if any of these are discovered, a qualified archaeologist be called in to investigate the occurrence.
In This regards the following ‘Chance find Procedure’ should be followed:
- Upon finding any archaeological or historical material all work at the affected area must cease.
· The area should be demarcated in order to prevent any further work there until an investigation has been completed.
· An archaeologist should be contacted immediately to provide advice on the matter.
- Should it be a minor issue, the archaeologist will decide on future action, which could include adapting the HIA or not. Depending on the nature of the find, it may include a site visit.
- SAHRA’s APM Unit may also be notified.