Hosting the annual event in the Lowveld is an initiative of Mpumalanga Heritage, in conjunction with The Friends of the Barberton Museum. A final programme of events and excursions during the symposium will be announced soon.
What makes Barberton being the host town even more significant is the recent declaration of the Barberton
Makhonjwa Mountains as a World Heritage Site – the first in Mpumalanga. The Makhonjwas, dating back 3,6 billion years, comprise the oldest, best-preserved sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rocks on Earth. Known geologically as the Barberton Greenstone Belt, the physical and chemical characteristics of these highly accessible and ancient exposures provide an unparalleled source of scientific information about the early Earth.
The outstanding value of these rocks lies not only in their excellent preservation but also in the large number of sites and features that, when combined, provide a unique, and as yet only partially explored, scientific resource. As required by the World Heritage Convention, they are “the best of the best” examples of this form of most ancient (Archaean) geology.
There are few places on Earth where rocks of the Archaean period are visible, but in Barberton the history of our planet, set in stone, can be seen from your car on a scenic tarred road!In view of the absence of documented material, it is difficult to establish who the first inhabitants of Barberton were. The area was occupied by the Swazi during the 1860s, who named it Mjindini. Rock paintings in the mountains and the caves of the area also provide evidence of the earlier existence of the San group. These paintings include familiar features of the San rock art paintings, which are prevalent in South African rock art.
The influx of whites to the area was mainly the result of the discovery of gold in the early 1880s, and Barberton, named after the brothers Fred and Henry Barber and their cousin Graham, was declared a township on July 24, 1884. This followed the Barbers’ gold discovery in Rimer’s Creek which resulted in prospectors and fortune seekers flocking to Barberton in droves.
Unfortunately, Barberton is not without serious conservation challenges, according to Marjory Nuns, of The Friends of the Barberton Museum.The historic site of the original Central Mill in Rimer’s Creek; the nucleus around which Barberton developed, where the ore from their early workings was crushed and the first ore from the historic Sheba Gold Mine was sent by Edwin Bray in 1885; is now surrounded by a massive wall that encloses a private heavy-truck parking lot. This happened despite the efforts of the local community during the past 11 years, who found in the end that legal action was the only remaining option. The outcome remains to be seen. Several interesting buildings remain from the gold rush days – many of them registered as Provincial Heritage Sites – but some, unfortunately, are showing signs of neglect.
The newly acquired World Heritage Site status will be used to enhance all heritage assets, cultural as well as natural, to form a broad base for sustainable tourism development. Geo-heritage alone is a poorly developed niche market in South Africa that will require support from other local attractions to generate the necessary investment to provide for the protection and presentation to the public that these treasures deserve.
For all further information regarding the symposium, contact Nuns (Friends of The Barberton Museum) at 013-712-7449, 082-401-5751 or [email protected] or Jacques Stoltz from HASA at [email protected] or 083-455-9688.
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