A desktop scoping report for the Witkop Exploration and Mining Project, Free State Province


Archaetnos cc was requested by GCS to conduct a cultural heritage impact assessment (HIA) for the proposed Witkop Exploration and Mining Project. The site is located to the south-east of the town of Viljoenskroon in the Free State Province.

The scope of work for the study was to do a desktop study to provide background information on the area of development.

A review of available literature and databases was undertaken in order to obtain background information regarding the area. Sources consulted in this regard are indicated in the list of references.

Aspects concerning the conservation of cultural resources are dealt with primarily through two Acts, namely the National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999) and the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998).

According to the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) the following are considered protected as heritage resources:

a. Archaeological artifacts, structures and sites older than 100 years;
b. Ethnographic art objects (e.g. prehistoric rock art) and ethnography;
c. Objects of decorative and visual arts;
d. Military objects, structures and sites older than 75 years;
e. Historical objects, structures and sites older than 60 years;
f. Proclaimed heritage sites;
g. Grave yards and graves older than 60 years;
h. Meteorites and fossils; and
i. Objects, structures and sites or scientific or technological value.

An HIA is the process to be followed in order to determine whether any heritage resources are located within the area proposed for development as well as the potential impact of the proposed development thereon. An Archaeological Impact Assessment only looks at archaeological resources. The different phases of the HIA process are described further in Appendix E. An HIA should be undertaken under the following circumstances:

a. The construction of a linear development (road, wall, power line canal etc.) exceeding 300m in length;
b. The construction of a bridge or similar structure exceeding 50m in length;
c. Any development or other activity that will change the character of a site and exceed 5 000m2 or involve three or more existing erven or subdivisions thereof;
d. Re-zoning of a site exceeding 10 000 m2; and
e. Any other category provided for in the regulations of South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) or a provincial heritage authority.

Section 34 (1) of the mentioned act states that no person may demolish any structure or part thereof which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.

Section 35(4) of this act deals with archaeology, palaeontology and meteorites. The NHRA states that no person may, without a permit issued by the responsible heritage resources authority (national or provincial):

a. destroy, damage, excavate, alter, deface or otherwise disturb any archaeological or paleontological site or any meteorite;
b. destroy, damage, excavate, remove from its original position, collect or own any archaeological or paleontological material or object or any meteorite;
c. trade in, sell for private gain, export or attempt to export from the Republic any category of archaeological or paleontological material or object, or any meteorite;
d. bring onto or use at an archaeological or paleontological site any excavation equipment or any equipment that assists in the detection or recovery of metals or archaeological and paleontological material or objects, or use such equipment for the recovery of meteorites; and/or
e. alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years as protected.
The above mentioned may only be disturbed or moved by a registered archaeologist, after receiving a permit from the SAHRA. In order to demolish such a site or structure, a destruction permit from SAHRA is required.

In terms of Section 36(3) of the NHRA, no person may, without a permit issued by the SAHRA:

a. destroy, damage, alter, exhume or remove from its original position of otherwise disturb the grave of a victim of conflict, or any burial ground or part thereof which contains such graves;
b. destroy, damage, alter, exhume or remove from its original position or otherwise disturb any grave or burial ground older than 60 years which is situated outside a formal cemetery administered by a local authority; and/or
c. bring onto or use at a burial ground or grave referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) any excavation, or any equipment which assists in the detection or recovery of metals.
The National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) states that a survey and evaluation of cultural resources must be done in areas where development projects, that will change the face of the environment, will be undertaken. The impact of the development on these resources should be determined and proposals for the mitigation thereof are made.

Information as to the Stone Age in this area is very limited, probably due to a lack of research. At Florisbad and Erfkroon some Early Stone Age sites were identified. At the latter Middle Stone Age material was also found.

Many Early Stone Age sites are known from the area around the Vaal River. In the Vredefort Dome, to the north-west of the project area, scattered finds of Middle and Late Stone Age tools have been recorded and at Florisbad and Voigtspost Late Stone Age material was uncovered.

Rock engravings were also found between the Vaal and Wilge Rivers, to the north-east of the project area. These are usually associated with the Late Stone Age.

The environment definitely would be supportive to Stone Age activities. The nearby water sources would lure animals to the area and these people would therefore at least have hunted here. One should therefore be on the lookout for stone tools as Stone Age people probably would have moved through the area.

No Early Iron Age sites have been recorded in the project area. Again this probably only relates to the lack of research as the environment definitely is suitable for human habitation.

A large number of Late Iron Age sites have previously been identified in the Vredefort Dome area, which lies to the north-west of the surveyed area. Late Iron Age people lived here between AD 1450 and 1650 and again between AD 1700 and 1840. Late Iron Ages sites are also known from Winburg to the south-west of the surveyed area and Platberg to the west thereof. During a survey many Late Iron Age sites were also identified in the broader geographical area.

These sites are usually located close to high lying hills. The environment is also suitable for Iron Age people and one may find cultural artifacts, such as potsherds and stone walling in the area.

At the beginning of the 19th century some BaTswana people lived in the broad geographical area of where the survey has been done. During the Difaquane, ca.1823-1837, the Ndebele of Mzilikazi entered this area resulting in many of the inhabitants having to flee. Between 1823 and 1827, the Ndebele of Mzilikazi settled around this area.

Early white travelers also moved through this area. The first was WC Harris in 1836. During the same year the Voortrekker parties of Louis Tregardt and Hans van Rensburg also moved through the area. Hereafter white farmers started to settle on farm here. Gold was discovered in the northern Free State during the 1890’s. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) both Boer and British forces moved through this area.

One may therefore expect to find Historical Late Iron Age settlements linked to the indigenous people here. Other possibilities are farm buildings, graves and objects linked to the first white farmers. Graves and farm building were indeed identified

during a previous survey in the area. One farm building and its associated outbuildings in the Viljoenskroon have been declared a provincial heritage site.

About a quarter of the area to be surveyed seems to have been disturbed by agricultural activities. In these the chances of finding heritage sites are limited. The remainder of the area to be surveyed seems to have been used for grazing and therefore a more natural environment is expected. Chances of finding heritage sites here, especially graves, could be reasonably high. There also is a river cutting through the area to be surveyed and the foothills of a hill at Mara A. This creates a suitable environment for the settling of people and therefore Stone and Iron Age sites may be present.

A number of buildings (e.g. farm houses, workers houses and associated outbuildings) are also indicated on the 1: 50 000 map. Some of these may have heritage significance. Usually graves are also found in close proximity to houses.

Since the proposed mining planned will be opencast the impact thereon on possible heritage sites could be severe. Sites directly impacted may have to mitigated, but this of course can only be determined after such sites have been identified and assessed as to its heritage significance. Even sites that are only impacted on indirectly may have to be mitigated, again depending on the heritage significance thereof.

The following issues may impact on heritage resources in the area:

– Opencast mining
– Placement of surface infrastructure, including buildings and roads
– Additional areas used as part of the mining process, e.g. stock piles, waste treatment facilities, benefication plant etc.
– Any activity that entails the breaking of ground
The survey of the area will be conducted according to generally accepted HIA practices, aimed at locating all possible objects, sites and features of cultural significance in the area in which the Project is proposed. If required, the location/position of any objects, sites and features of cultural significance will be determined by means of a Global Positioning System (GPS), while photographs will also be taken where needed.

People from local communities are sometimes interviewed in order to obtain information relating to the surveyed area. All sites, objects features and structures identified are documented according to the general minimum standards accepted by the archaeological profession.

The evaluation of heritage sites is undertaken by applying a field rating to each using the following criteria:

• The unique nature of a site;

• The integrity of the archaeological deposit;

• The wider historic, archaeological and geographic context of the site;

• The location of the site in relation to other similar sites or features;

• The depth of the archaeological deposit (when it can be determined or is known);

• The preservation condition of the site;

• Uniqueness of the site; and

• Potential to answer present research questions.


During the field survey the cultural significance of heritage resources are determined.
From this further studies are determined. It is very unlikely that a Grade I or II site will be identified. If identified, it will most likely put a stop to any development. The same goes for Grade IIIA, but this also is quite unlikely.

Sites with any other grading may be mitigated. A phase II study will entail detailed documentation thereof before it may be demolished. For buildings this would mean the photographic documentation and mapping thereof. Archaeological sites may need excavation to obtain basic information before it may be demolished. Graves may require exhumation and reburial of mortal remains.

In all these cases there also is the possibility of not demolishing the heritage resources. It will then have to be protected by erecting a fence and implementing a management plan for the sustainable preservation thereof.

The only possible gap expected is that SAHRA may also require a Palaentological Impact Assessment. This may be limited to an exemption letter from a palaeontologist.
Unfortunately there is limited information available on the historical and prehistoric sites in the Viljoenskroon area. The area is mostly terra incognito as far as heritage sites are concerned, due to a lack of research. Sites, as indicated above, may be found during field surveys.

Once identified and assessed it will be possible to determine impact as well as the mitigation measured needed in order to minimize impact. It also needs to be realized that SAHRA need to comment on all heritage related reports.

Report by

Dr. A.C. van Vollenhoven (L.AKAD.SA.)