A report on a cultural heritage impact assessment for the proposed Setlabosha Project, close to Standerton, Mpumalanga ProvinceSummary

Archaetnos cc was requested by SRK Consulting to conduct a cultural heritage impact assessment (HIA) for the proposed Setlabosha Project. The project runs over various farms close to the town of Standerton in the Mpumalanga Province. The HIA is done as part of the Environmental Authorisation Process for the project and will follow a Scoping and Environmental Impact Report.

The Terms of Reference for the survey were to:

  1. Identify objects, sites, occurrences and structures of an archaeological or historical nature (cultural heritage sites) located on the property.
  2. Document the found cultural heritage sites according to best practice standards for heritage related studies.
  3. Study background information on the area to be developed.
  4. Assess the significance of the cultural resources in terms of their archaeological, historical, scientific, social, religious, aesthetic and tourism value.
  5. Describe the possible impact of the proposed development on these cultural remains, according to a standard set of conventions.
  6. Recommend suitable mitigation measures to minimize possible negative impacts on the cultural resources by the proposed development.
  7. Review applicable legislative requirements.

Aspects concerning the conservation of cultural resources are dealt with mainly in two acts. The first of these are the National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999) which deals with the cultural heritage of the Republic of South Africa. The second is the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) which inter alia deals with cultural heritage as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process.

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 via off-road vehicle and 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 Global Positioning System (GPS). The information was added to the description in order to facilitate the identification of each locality.

The evaluation of heritage sites is done by giving a field rating of 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.

The area that was surveyed is located on the Mpumalanga Highveld and shows typical Highveld characteristics, including farming practices. The natural environment consists mainly of grassland with isolated trees. Many signs of the environment being disturbed by recent human activities are present. Pioneer species such as grass and weeds are found throughout the surveyed area. The main disturbance however, comes from agricultural activities, in this case maize and soya bean fields.

The following is recommended:

  • Three grave yards were found, all being regarded as being of high cultural significance.
  • Since none of these were identified close to the proposed conveyor route A, it is recommended that this route be used.
  • Should it not be possible, meaning that route option B is used, the following is recommended, there would be two options to deal with the graves. The first would be to fence it in and write a management plan for the preservation thereof. This option will come into play if there is no direct impact on the graves. It should be kept in mind that there always is a secondary impact on graves since families may not have access thereto once a mine comes into operation. A buffer zone of 20 m is recommended.
  • The second option is to have the graves exhumed and the bodies reburied. This option is preferred when graves cannot be avoided by the development. Before exhumation can be done a process of social consultation is needed in order to find the associated families and obtain permission from them. For graves younger than 60 years only an undertaker is involved in the process, but for those older than 60 years or with an unknown date of death, an undertaker and archaeologist should be involved. Unknown graves are handled similarly to heritage graves.
  • Nothing of heritage importance was identified at any of the proposed shaft positions or the mine complex. Therefore the proposed development may continue here on any of these options.
  • The proposed development may continue, within the parameters set out by these recommendations.
  • 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.

Report by

Prof. A.C. van Vollenhoven (L.AKAD.SA.) Accredited member of ASAPA Accredited member of SASCH