Hushed heritage: a feasibility study of South African legislation applicable to underwater cultural heritage
Underwater cultural heritage (UCH) and its protection is an extremely under-researched area within South African heritage. In the country there are only a small number of experts in this field. UNESCO defines UCH as “all traces of human existence, having a cultural, historical or archaeological character, which have periodically or continuously been submerged or semi-submerged in water" (UNESCO, 2001:2). There are various types of UCH; however, the present study focuses exclusively on shipwrecks. South Africa has an estimated 2 200 to 3 500 shipwrecks along its 3 000 km coastline. These wrecks represent a rich UCH resource of national and international significance. The purpose of this study was to determine the status quo of UCH protection (esp. shipwrecks) in South Africa and to measure it against international best practice. This helped the researcher identify the strengths and weaknesses within South African legislation and make recommendations for improvement. The South African legislative and institutional framework for UCH conservation management was studied and compared with international best practice. In this regard, the main outcome of the study was reached, namely determining whether South African legislation applicable to UCH is capable and viable to protect and conserve the numerous shipwrecks along the country's coastline. The final conclusion was that the legislative measures, in particular the NHRA, are sufficient to protect shipwrecks (as UCH resources) effectively. However, its implementation and enforcement by the relevant authorities is found to be inadequate. This is due mainly to a lack of expertise and capacity in the country within this field. Therefore, capacity-building was identified as a major requirement to improve the South African management regime for UCH conservation. Finally, a UCH operational framework was proposed to counter the challenges, in terms of strategic focus areas of application.
- Humanities 
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