ICOMOS South Africa was established some ten years ago, during the post-democratic South Africa. Prior to this heritage management and conservation practice in South Africa was largely limited in scope and practise as a direct result of South Africa exclusion from the international arena, as articulated by Dr Townsend ‘… increasing isolation from the international community since the sixties had an unmistakeable impact on conservation ideas and practice. While the internationally accepted Venice Charter of 1964 led to many like-minded international and national charters (the national charter best known to us is the Australian Burra charter of 1981) and to commonly accepted practice, South African conservation practice took a quite different direction.’1
Even though the South African heritage management and conservation fraternities remain a small industry in South Africa, international interaction and exposure, through organisations such as ICOMOS has meant a shift in paradigm. In the past the various challenges presented to ICOMOS SA , largely due to a lack of resources, both human and financial, have led to a decline in membership, a situation which the current ICOMOS SA Executive committee is currently actively addressing in its attempt to invigorate new interest through a range of activities and involvements. The past five years has seen ICOMOS SA grow in membership and local activities. Of its current thirty four memberships, most are well placed within government, state agencies, tertiary institutions, professional organisations and our foremost civil society conservation bodies.
The ICOMOS SA presence as advisors on many significant heritage management matters has resulted in it becoming a respected organisation within the South African heritage industry. Activities are still largely dependent on the contributions made by the individual members who are jointly making a significant impact upon the heritage and conservation practise in South Africa. International conservation practise with a uniquely South African flavour has become central to our local project implementation and heritage management as can be noted from our poster series.
Notwithstanding the above, the biggest problems ICOMOS SA face is communication and the development of a community of heritage practitioners and managers within a large, relatively poor country where there is not a lot of funding available for heritage, this makes it increasingly difficult to organize get-togethers and conferences for our membership.
Opposed to this, our biggest asset remains our diversity in heritage resources which is a direct result of our diverse peoples who have contributed to a rich mixture of African, Western and Eastern cultures that shape our distinctively South African heritage. ICOMOS SA is optimistic about our future and the enormous opportunities and possibilities presented to us as a national committee. One of our main objectives is to empower the Southern African region and possibly other sister countries in Africa.
One of the greatest achievements for ICOMOS SA remains the Declaration of the Kimberley Workshop on the Intangible Heritage of Monuments and Sites. Through this an International Scientific Committee for intangible heritage was developed.
In conclusion, ICOMOS SA is excited about its future and the possibilities of working closely with our international counterparts in ensuring best conservation practise in South and, more ambitiously, Southern Africa.