Maritime and underwater cultural heritage in South Africa

Jonathan Sharfman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


South Africa's unique position, approximately the half-way point between Europe and the rich markets of the Indian Ocean and Far East, made it a key strategic location for the emerging western seafarers, traders and colonial powers who sought to control maritime commerce. As such, the nation's waters are host to a broad range of shipwreck sites that represent the history and heritage of multiple states. With the invention of SCUBA, the underwater environment and historic shipwreck sites became increasingly accessible. As wreck sites and their ancient historic cargoes were discovered and treasure hunters regaled the public with stories of adventure and hard-fought fortunes, archaeological sites came under increasing threat. Salvors, looters and souvenir hunters, interested only in commercially valuable objects, ran roughshod over archaeological sites in their efforts to recover the prizes hidden within. South Africa was not exempt from these endeavours and, as treasure hunting efforts increased in the 1970s and 1980s, it struggled to draft and implement management systems that would protect sites and retain historical and archaeological data. This chapter explores the development of South Africa's MUCH legislation both within the context of the apartheid era and within the young, inclusive democracy that emerged in to mid-1990s. The chapter examines how reactive legislative frameworks favoured shipwreck heritage and how new approaches that take cognisance of alternative maritime heritage narratives are emerging to offer access and a voice to all South Africans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMaritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Management on the Historic and Arabian Trade Routes
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9783030558376
ISBN (Print)9783030558369
StatePublished - Dec 15 2020


  • Heritage management
  • Indian Ocean
  • Maritime
  • Maritime heritage
  • South Africa heritage
  • Underwater heritage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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