A report on a cultural heritage impact assessment for the Rietkuil Vakhoni Project, close to Kriel, Mpumalanga Province


Archaetnos CC was requested by GCS to conduct a cultural heritage impact assessment for the Rietkuil Vakhoni Project. This is a project done for Total Coal South Africa (Pty) Ltd. and forms part of the extension of mining operation for Total Coal and Dorstfontein Coal Mines. The planned mining will be done by underground mining methods.

The project spans over certain portion of the farm Rietkuil 57 IS. This lies to the north-east of the town of Kriel in the Mpumalanga Province. This report deals with the results of the field survey.

The Scope and purpose for the survey were to do an archaeological and heritage survey and assessment according to generally accepted HIA practices endorsed by SAHRA and ASAPA. In the process the aim was to identify all objects, sites, occurrences and structures of an archaeological or historical nature (cultural heritage sites) located on the property and to assess the significance of these cultural resources in terms of their archaeological, historical, scientific, social, religious, aesthetic and tourism value. These were to be documented, and the possible impact of the proposed development on these was to be described. In addition suitable mitigation measures to minimize possible negative impacts on the cultural resources were to be proposed.

Cultural Resources are all non-physical and physical man-made occurrences, as well as natural occurrences associated with human activity and include all sites, structures and artifacts of importance. Graves and cemeteries are included in this.

It has to be mentioned that it is almost impossible to locate all the cultural resources in a given area, as it will be very time consuming. Developers should however note that the report should make it clear how to handle any other finds that might occur. In this particular case there were certain areas with dense vegetation which made archaeological visibility difficult.

Aspects concerning the conservation of cultural resources are dealt with mainly in two acts. These are 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 the following is protected as cultural 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
i. Objects, structures and sites or scientific or technological value.

A Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) is the process to be followed in order to determine whether any heritage resources are located within the area to be developed as well as the possible impact of the proposed development thereon.

The National Environmental Management Act 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.

The evaluation of heritage sites is done by 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.

Before doing the physical survey, a survey of literature was undertaken in order to obtain background information regarding the area. This was followed by the field survey. People from local communities are also interviewed in order to obtain information relating to the surveyed area.

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 Global Positioning System (GPS).The information was added to the description in order to facilitate the identification of each locality.

The surveyed area is mostly disturbed due to previous human activities on the site. This includes mainly agricultural activities such as the planting of maize and soya bean, as well as grazing. Certain areas are covered by grass, which were of different lengths.

The topography of the area consists of rolling hills with a gentle slope. Declinations are found close to rivers. The main water source seems to be a large pan in the south-east, but small rivers and other pans are also found.

The fieldwork undertaken during March 2015 revealed five sites of cultural heritage significance. The recommended mitigation and management measures for these are summarized as follows:

• All sites identified are grave sites and these need to be dealt with cautiously.
• There are two options when dealing with graves. The first would be to fence it in and write a management plan for the preservation thereof. The second option is to have the graves exhumed and the bodies reburied.
• For all five sites, Option 1 is recommended, since the mining would be underground.
• Site 2 falls outside of the mining area, but still needs to managed to prevent deterioration thereof.
• All sites should be fenced in and a management plan written by a heritage consultant. A buffer zone of 50 m is proposed in areas where no blasting is to be done, but where blasting is done this should be increased to 100 m.
• Since underground mining may sometimes cause graves to cave in, the mine should ensure that this does not occur. The sites should therefore be monitored for any signs of further deterioration and should in-caving become an issue, Option 2 will automatically have to be implemented.
• After implementation of the proposed mitigation measures, the proposed mining development may continue.
• It should be noted that the subterranean presence of archaeological and/or historical sites, features or artifacts are always a distinct possibility. Care should therefore be taken when development work commences that if any of these are accidentally discovered, a qualified archaeologist be called in to investigate.
• Since the mining will be done underground it minimizes risk. However one will have to guard against the possible in-caving of mining areas which may have a negative effect on heritage sites.

Report by

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