National Monuments Council


In 1972 the National Monuments Act established the National Monuments Council which replaced the The Historical Monuments Commission.

The passing of an entirely new law replaced all the old legislation and embodied several important new principles. The Historical Monuments Commission is replaced by a National Monuments Council which was delegated several new powers and functions in addition to those of the old Commission. Its jurisdiction was extended to include South West Africa and that territory to be represented by several members of the Council. The Council was empowered to proclaim monuments temporarily for three years during which time investigations and negotiations could be completed and permanent proclamation effected by the Minister on the Council's recommendation. Of great importance was the recognition of the Council's need for more adequate funds. Besides an improved grant for administrative purposes, the Council was financially as well as legally empowered to recommend Government subventions for purchasing, repairing and maintaining monuments provided that they have be proclaimed or the owner agreed to proclamation.

In 1969 it became apparent, as elsewhere in the world, that in a time of economic growth and an accompanying environmental danger for cultural resources, a strong heritage conservation body had to be constituted. Together with a number of non-governmental organisations with a similar object in mind, such as the Simon van der Stel Foundation and Historical Homes of South Africa Ltd, the National Monuments Council engaged itself in a wide range of conservation activities in South Africa. The Council could now not only declared national monuments, but also provisionally declared structures or sites in crisis for a maximum of three years. This was later extended to five years. For the first time, provision was also made to allocate restoration subsidies.

It is interesting to note that the Republic of South Africa had their modern heritage legislation in place even before some European countries managed to. For example, states like the Federal Republic of Germany only promulgated modern heritage legislation in the 1970s and 1980s, with the laws for the new federal states still being under way. The situation was similar here too, however, in the sense that it was mostly private individuals who initiated official heritage preservation.

From 1979 onwards, the National Monuments Council was equipped with wider powers and responsibilities, making it a powerful body in the field of heritage conservation. In 1979, for example, the automatic legal protection of historical shipwrecks was added to the National Monuments Council's functions. In 1981, the Council also administered the identification, repair and maintenance of war graves. In 1986, additional conservation categories were added to the Council's portfolio. Since then, the National Monuments Council has been obliged to compile a register of conservation-worthy property for the whole of South Africa. This register was compiled following the identification of conservation-worthy heritage resources, and drew on surveys of local and urban areas. Such items were eventually published in the South African Government gazette. Since 1986 the Council was empowered to designate any area of land of historical, aesthetic or scientific interest as conservation-worthy, thereby rendering protection to buildings and other eligible structures. In 1986 it was empowered to declare movable cultural treasures and protect historical sites, including buildings older than 50 years.

The broad base of the National Monuments Council reflected its holistic tradition to protect an extremely wide range of structures or objects. These varied from geological formations, fauna and flora, as well as archaeological, cultural" and historical heritage resources. In 2000, after almost 100 years of heritage conservation, more than 4000 national monuments had been declared in South Africa, apart from many achievements and a proud record in other fields of conservation. [Vogt, 2004: xii-xiii]

In 1999, after the establishment of full democracy in 1994, this was replaced by the National Heritage Resources Act and a new organisation, South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) was established.