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Africa's World Heritages Sites

Aired August 4, 2007 - 12:30:00   ET


FEMI OKE, HOST: Hello, I'm Femi Oke. And you're watching INSIDE AFRICA, our weekly look at life and news on the continent, coming to you this week from the stunning Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park here in South Africa. It was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, otherwise knows UNESCO. It was added to the list of World Heritage sites back in 2000 for its exceptional natural beauty, and also, ancient rock art.
Now, Africa is full of natural beauty and culture and history and diversity. But the UNESCO says that Sub-Saharan Africa is severely underrepresented in its list of World Heritage sites. In fact, only 65 World Heritage sites are found in this region, and most 65 sites make up nearly half of all sites in UNESCO's list of World Heritage in danger.

We're going to share some of Africa's cultural and natural treasures review today. And we will start right here, with South Africa's Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park.


OKE: The Zulus call it the barrier of spears, or Ukhahlamba. The Afrikaners dubbed it Drakensberg, or Dragon Mountains. Today, people travel from around the world to take in the sights of South Africa's Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Park. Recognized by UNESCO in 2000, it's not your typical African nature reserve. There's plenty of wildlife, of course, but no lions or leopards. A stunning landscape, but no safaris.

KHULANI MKHIZE, CEO, KZN WILDLIFE: And it takes a lot of marketing, it takes a lot of education for people to actually understand what do you come to this park for.

OKE: Juergen and Sabine (ph) have traveled here from Germany. Even a blast of wintry South African weather hasn't put them off enjoying their vacation.

JUERGEN LANGHAMMER, TOURIST: Last night in the more altitude park, Goenge (ph) park, it was very cold. We had ice on the tent. It was very hot. Here, it's no problem. It's wonderful.

OKE: The park is actually a collection of 15 protected areas, so there are parks within the park, and every location has some great stories.

It can certainly do with a bit of tender loving care. This is the location of the old Royal Natal National Park Hotel. It used to be quite the place to stay. In fact, the royal princesses Margaret and Elizabeth stayed here back in the 1940s. And check out those yellow trees just behind me -- they are the very trees that they've planted on their visit.

Newcomers to the Drakensberg soon learn that every mountain peak has a name. This is the famous Amphitheatre, a five-kilometer long, 500-meter tall rock wall. And just next door, there's the Lion Mountain.

MKHIZE: If you look at this, you can see that that's the head of the lion, facing - facing that way.

OKE (on camera): Is it lying down?

MKHIZE: It's lying down. Yes.


MKHIZE: That's why they call it (inaudible).



(voice over): Despite his best efforts, Khulani couldn't quite make me see the lion in the Lion Mountain, but I did try.

Further south in the Drakensberg range, there is an area known as Giant's Castle. Of course, the view is striking. But the real treasure can be found inside the sunstone rock shelters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On that painting, we want to show others (inaudible). He's very important to (inaudible).

OKE: The San Bushmen of this region left behind an extraordinary collection of rock art paintings. For 4,000 years, they roamed the mountains painting scenes of their life and culture. Today, there are about 600 sites and 40,000 individual paintings. They are monument to the Bushmen, and have earned the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park its status as a cultural as well as natural world heritage site. Just another reason to visit, as if you needed one.


OKE: So, what exactly makes a World Heritage site? According to UNESCO, a World Heritage site is one that has outstanding and universal value to all of humanity. The site may be natural or cultural. UNESCO's mission is to identify and encourage the protection of these sites.

Our next site is Cairo, one of Egypt's living, breathing heritage treasures. Archeologists there are outraged at the building of a new multimillion-dollar business and tourist mega complex. They say it's putting Cairo's famous Citadel under threat. Alphonso Van Marsh has our report.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Call to prayer competes with car horns in Egypt's Islamic Cairo. Centuries-old mosques, ancient souks and fortresses, the heart of this living, breathing United Nations World Heritage site.

Some archeologists warn Islamic Cairo's antiquities, like this Citadel, are under threat. From this -- a half billion-dollar business and tourism mega-complex under construction next door.

DR. MOHAMED AL KAHLAWEY, UNION OF ARAB ARCHEOLOGISTS (through translator): The vibrations from construction will accelerate the process that will cause these antiquities to collapse.

VAN MARSH: The 260,000-square meter Cairo business and touristic center is slated to have a five-star hotel, cinema entertainment center, office and residential space. Developer Mohammed Nosseir says it's supposed to be a beacon for international investment, creating thousands of jobs in the neighborhood that used to be a rock quarry and garbage dump.

MOHAMED NOSSEIR, CHAIRMAN, ALKAN GROUP: That is my dream, to give to my country. It will be the working platform or station for - for this businesses to attract and let people come in.

VAN MARSH: But the director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities says Nosseir's dream development is an eyesore.

ZAHI HAWASS, EGYPTIAN SUPR. COUNCIL ON ANTIQUITY: It has to fit with the site. If you look from that hole, you can see the building like that. And this is why if I'm standing in this place in the Citadel and look at my site, I don't want to hurt my eyes.

VAN MARSH: Nosseir's critics argue his modern, glitzy project, that rises some 60 meters, or about 200 feet above street level, will overshadow Islamic Cairo's medieval skyline. The Citadel is Islamic Cairo's crown jewel, one of Egypt's big tourist draws.

Hawass convinced Cairo's governor to temporarily shut down project construction last July, and called in a UNESCO team to tour the site. UNESCO determined that Nosseir's, quote, "commercial building" would have a significant adverse impact on the visual integrity of the Citadel, which would be impossible to reverse."

And even though Nosseir says he held all the legal documents to build on this land for years, it recently emerged he was one permit short. You guessed it: From the Department of Antiquities.

HAWASS: If Mr. Nosseir will come from the beginning and take my opinion for establishing this project in this place, I will say no, and no. And no.

VAN MARSH: Egyptian officials admit they made a mistake, that somebody should have told Mohamed Nosseir he needed permission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities before building this. And now, it seems that the solution may be more of a matter of taste.

Nosseir changed project design so some buildings will be built from the underground up, the rooftops leveling at street level, as not to block views of the Citadel.

NOSSEIR: So, I'm really - I'm doing something nice hidden within the mountain.

VAN MARSH: But Hawass wants all the buildings kept at 7 meters, about 22 feet above ground, and he's commissioned a second UNESCO report to resolve this dispute.

HAWASS: We are waiting for UNESCO opinion until now. But the Citadel is more important than Mr. Nosseir.

VAN MARSH: Nosseir says outsiders should not be telling Egyptians what to do.

NOSSEIR: This country has its own people who are concerned about their own heritage and their culture much more than the UNESCO, with all my respect to the UNESCO.

VAN MARSH: As the U.N. determines whether the Egyptian government or one of Egypt's richest citizens is in the right, one of the project's loudest critics says all parties were wrong to let construction go forward.

AL KAHLAWEY (through translator): I blame my government and I blame UNESCO for not doing more to save this heritage, and I blame our own people in this country for not being aware of what we have in terms of monumental heritage.

VAN MARSH: For centuries, Islamic Cairo has welcomed visitors, its Citadel fortress walls helped to fight off invading powers. Now, Egypt is trying to balance accommodating 21st century tourism and business demands with its rich heritage.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Cairo.


OKE: When we come back, it's been described as an outstanding material manifestation of cultural fusion and harmonization. Wow! It's almost poetic! Stay with us. We'll find out what makes Zanzibar and the Spice Islands so special.


OKE: Named a World Heritage site in 1981, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is home to the big five -- lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and cape buffalo. It's also famous for the annual migration of more than a million wildebeests and about 200,000 zebras. The park is visited by more than 90,000 tourists each year.

Victoria Falls in Zambia was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1989. One of the largest sheets of falling water in the world, it has been called one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. About two kilometers wide, Victoria Falls is surrounded by an iridescent mist that can be seen more than 20 kilometers away.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Commercial Bank of Rwanda is introducing a new kind of banking to the country. Account holders will now be able to check their balance and transactions, as well as request checks, by using their cell phones.

The World Health Organization is pushing for manufacturers to reduce the cost of insecticide-treated mosquito nets. As malaria continues to plaque Africa, the WHO says prevention methods are increasingly important. It says the increase in demand for the nets will balance out any price reductions made on the manufacturer's end.


OKE: Good to see you again. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA, coming to you from the beautiful Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park in South Africa. And this week, we are listing some of UNESCO's World Heritage sites in Africa. Sylvia Smith takes us to our next stop, the jewel in Tanzania's Spice Islands.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This narrow, winding streets provide shade and a place for a chat or a leisurely game with friends. Zanzibaris still prefer sitting outside and watching the world go by to watching TV.

It's a glimpse into the past, when Zanzibar was the capital of the Omani Empire, a great trading civilization that introduced new designs, fresh words into the language, and yet more flavors to an already rich cuisine. And yet, it's still relatively unknown to the world.

ALI KHALIL MIRZA, ZANZIBAR COMM. FOR TOURISM: Zanzibar is still a new destination, whereby it has not been exploited compared to other destinations. In addition to that, the history, cultural heritage and the Swahili culture, which is found here in Zanzibar, not found in many parts of the world.

SMITH: The island has seen a series of colonizers from India, Persia and Arabia. Each has left an indelible imprint. Trade was the impetus, and one of the most horrific was the traffic in human beings, remembered here in this slave center, now a Christian church.

But the island also drew great explorers, the likes of David Livingstone. To them, the island, and neighboring island Pemba, were known particularly for the quality of their spices. To this day, they're known as the Spice Islands. And seeing how cardamom, ginger and cinnamon actually grow is a real thrill.

But central to Zanzibar is this: The old historic area known as the Stone Town, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

MIRZA: It makes the town to be very, very interesting, with meandering narrow streets, nice Indian doors, very large Arabic structures - all this blending together, makes the Stone Town to be unique.

SMITH: Until recently, most of the Stone Town looked like this -- dilapidated and in danger of falling down. Now, an ambitious project of restoring the houses has ensured that it can not only attract tourists, but also house them.

ANTHONY CHEGE KANAU, MANAGER, ZANZIBAR SERENA INN: Before this hotel was created out of two historic buildings, there was no logistics (ph) for the tourists to enjoy the historic Stone Town: Serena acted as a springboard for all subsequent restorations.

SMITH: The waterfront, and one of its most important historic buildings, the beautifully renovated former hospital, is typically the first view visitors get of Zanzibar.

AMYN BAPOO, AGA KHAN, TRUST FOR CULTURE, ZANZIBAR: The waterfront area not only serves as a key commercial link between the outside world, but it also is the face of Zanzibar Stone Town. When we talk about tourism, responsible tourism, in a conservative society, in a Muslim society, it means showcasing the heritage of Zanzibar.

SMITH: That heritage also includes the Swahili coastal culture, on offer wherever you look.

ISSA MAKARANI, CONSERVATIONIST: If restoration is not carried out properly in Stone Town of Zanzibar, the site we lose - it is World Heritage (inaudible).

SMITH: The masses haven't got here yet. But when they do, the chief task will be to maintain the delicate balance between a living culture and its visitors.

Sylvia Smith, Zanzibar.


OKE: A few months ago, a new fund was launched here in South Africa to help Sub-Saharan Africa improve the preservation of its natural and cultural heritage. In fact, it's this region that's so poorly represented on UNESCO's World Heritage list. So to get some perspective on the issue, I spoke to an expert.



OKE : Themba Wakashe shows me the locations of Africa's World Heritage sites. As chair of the Africa World Heritage Fund, he's familiar with the problems that stop Africa's heritage from being better recognized.

WAKASHE: The African World Heritage sites form less than 10 percent - I think it's about 8 percent -- on the World Heritage list. And so -- and this is partly because of the challenges of preparation of nominations, and all of that. It's constantly involved, I think - I mean - it takes countries between three to five years to prepare for one site to be on the World Heritage list.

OKE: Getting a site like Robben Island on the list is a bit like preparing for an Olympic bid. It takes training, staff, and resources for conservation to get a site ready. The Africa World Heritage Fund gives out grants to help African countries compete with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, like the gorillas in the DRC's UNESCO-listed Virunga National Park, a large number of Africa's World Heritage sites are on the danger list:

WAKASHE: They are under threat for a number of reasons. One is the amount of resources that is required to maintain the sites, and another is the question of accessibility.

OKE: How is it, do you think, the rest of the world will view Africa when there would be so many more African World Heritage sites?

WAKASHE: These sites are not just records of history, but they're also economic assets, but they're just simply under-performing assets at the present moment. And that our challenge is to turn them around, to become active assets.


OKE: When we come back, one of the major chapters in the story of evolution, written in the sands of Egypt's western desert. See you soon.


OKE: Hello again. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA's special look at the continent's World Heritage sites. Our next site takes us to Egypt's western desert, which many years ago used to be an ocean.


GABRIEL MIKHAIL, POTOGRAPHER, IMAGE HOUSE: Western Haten (ph) is the special because it has fossils that provide the clue about the evolution of life on Earth. Here, you can find the (inaudible) and complete skeletons of the whales, ancestors of the crabs, crocodiles. All sort of sea shells. This was, in fact, under the sea, 40 million - about 40 million years ago, when the climate changed from - from underwater to complete desert. So it becomes an open laboratory for scientists to see how the life on Earth progressed.

This is a hind limb of a prehistoric carnivorous (inaudible), called Vanepasoris Isis (ph), which was 18 meters long, and these fossils are his hind limbs. You can see all the -- like the fingers, all the limbs intact.

This is a scull of the ancestor of a dugong. It's a sea cow. And it is the scull now -- the dugong still lives in the Red Sea. It is - almost seems like a set from a Hollywood movie. I mean, you have that desert floor, and then - then you have the mountain, and on the side of a cliff, (inaudible) cliff, there is this huge set of jaws that stick out at you. It looks like it's in almost an attack position. It's very dramatic.


OKE: And that wraps up our look at Africa's World Heritage sites for this week. You know, we always hope that you'll let INSIDE AFRICA be your window to the continent. So, this week, we're going to leave you with this spectacular view.

I'm Femi Oke. Until the next time, take care.