Housing and industrial developments proposed at Sibudu
The proposed development
The Wewe Driefontein Mixed Use Development, proposed near Sibudu, is planned to provide approximately 3450 housing opportunities ( of mixed typology and income ), 58 ha light and service industrial area, 90 ha of general industrial area, 18ha mixed use area, 37ha of agriculture and smallholdings, 7ha light commercial, 5.7ha general commercial / shopping centre, fuel stations, 2.3ha educational / community facilities, rehabilitation of conservation areas, private open space systems, and associated services and servitudes for bulk electricity, waste water treatment ( subject to confirmation from authorities ), upgrading of external bulk services and infrastructure and internal link services and infrastructure.
Sibudu - Archaeological Background
- Sibudu has a long Middle Stone Age record dating between 77 000 and 35 000 years ago, a period seldom represented in other SA sites. It is therefore a model for the South African Middle Stone Age cultural sequence.
- Sibudu is one of only three sites in Africa with early sea-shell beads. These are older than 70 000 years ago. These demonstrate that people at the time had symbolic behaviour because they were expressing group identity.
- Sibudu has the world’s oldest yet discovered bone arrowheads that are 65 000 years old.
- Sibudu has a rare collection of worked bone tools dating between 70 000 and 62 000 years ago.
- Organic preservation is exceptionally good. Identified remains of animal bones, seeds and charcoal have enabled KwaZulu-Natal environmental reconstructions from 77 000 years ago. Sibudu has a long record of animal and plant changes, extinct animals and trees not found in the area today.
- Geoarchaeologists consider the Sibudu sediments remarkable and amongst the best in the world for identifying behavioural moments in time.
- The AD 1100 Iron Age occupation on top of the Middle Stone Age occupation contained a pit with more than 5000 glass beads as part of several necklaces. This is KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest and oldest bead cache.
- Excavations are ongoing by a team from the University of the Witwatersrand, assisted by international specialists, and the site still has much to offer. Approximately 10% of the site has been excavated, which means that much valuable information remains unexplored.
- In Europe sites less promising than Sibudu are excavated by generations of archaeologists for more than a 100 years.
- Sibudu’s finds have resulted in many international and national publications in peer-reviewed journals and books. The site has a huge international profile and there are calls from all parts of the world for the site to be saved from the inevitable effects of the development.
All the excavators are employed as academics who teach and have administrative duties or else they are PhD students who have their own research projects to work on. This means that we can only excavate for two months of the year.
Consequences of the development
1. If nothing is done to protect the site
Experience elsewhere in South Africa shows that unprotected sites near towns or residential estates are destroyed. Rose Cottage cave, for example, although securely fenced with padlocked gate, was broken into and vandalized beyond repair. 100 000 years of history has been lost. Other sites have the same story to tell as heritage agencies can confirm. Sibudu is far more important than other sites that have been lost to wanton vandalism.
This Google image clearly shows the proximity of Sibudu to the proposed housing development in the present sugarcane fields (to the right of the shelter past a small strip of indigenous forest).
2. If the development does not go ahead
Then the present level of excavation will continue at the site, the area of excavation will be enlarged and generations of South African archaeologists will have the benefit of working at the site.
It is important that sites such as Sibudu ultimately become economically sustainable. When the site has been excavated more, it should be possible to open it for archaeotourism. However, for security reasons and the exorbitant cost of providing security, I do not believe that this will be possible with a neighbouring low-cost housing estate and industrial development.
3. If the development goes ahead with accelerated excavation
If the development was held off for a two year period to allow mitigation at the site, the following would be necessary and will be very expensive:
- A full-time archaeologist on site for two years with a team of qualified archaeological assistants. These people would have to be salaried because no-one with a full-time job could take off two years for the excavation.
- Accommodation and travel costs of the team for the two year period. A vehicle and survey equipment would have to be provided - either or hire for two years or purchased.
- On completion of the accelerated research it will be necessary to securely fence the site and place a guard at the entrance. Failing this, the 80m square floor of the cave must be cemented over to protect the deposit.
Why should Sibudu be saved?
The site still contains a wealth of information about our heritage.
The site can be a place where South Africans learn to excavate and do research on our heritage.
Culture lifts a nation psychologically and intellectually. Whether it be World Cup soccer, fine music, literature, art or heritage of the kind that Sibudu offers, these are things that define a nation and give it pride, ownership. The poor, the homeless and the diseased will always be with us, no matter how much money is funneled into projects to alleviate these miseries. Heritage is only with us if we treasure and protect it. It is within our power to preserve or to destroy sites such as Sibudu which will it be?