Historical monuments and renovation restrictions

South Africa has a diverse and rich history, represented in the buildings that have been built throughout the years. To ensure their lasting value and to preserve this legacy, these buildings are protected through legislation that regulates and restricts renovations and alterations made to buildings classified as historical monuments.

July 28, 2017

Legislation protecting South Africa’s heritage

Any building that is older than 60 years is considered a heritage site or historical building, and as such forms part of the national estate. The National Heritage Resources Act, 29 of 1999, aims to ensure the good management of the national estate and to motivate communities to conserve South Africa’s common heritage for future generations.

The South African Heritage Resources Agency has been tasked with and is required to compile and maintain an inventory of this national estate, as dictated in Section 39 of the Act, which serves as a database of information on heritage resources.

It is possible to approach the South African Resources Agency in order to determine whether a particular building forms part of the national estate. This information is valuable prior to planning any alterations so as to follow the correct process for these plans being approved.

Altering a historical monument – the process

According to the Act, any building older than 60 years may not be demolished or altered without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.

In order to obtain this permit, application must be made to the relevant local department of arts, culture and heritage services. Included in the application should be designs by an architectural expert, providing recommendations regarding the demolition and/or alteration to the exterior or interior of the building. The proposed alteration should also be shown in a colour overlay on the original plans.

The building will then be assessed to determine its historical value, which may also include a report from an architect or other professional where deemed necessary.

In determining whether the proposed alterations should be approved, this authority will consider the cultural significance of the building, whether it is a valuable example of a specific architectural style or achievement, and whether the loss due to the alteration or demolition is outweighed by the benefits of this change. However, there are no stringent rules when it comes to these considerations, and the approval process is at the discretion of the relevant local heritage authority.

Based on the outcome of the assessment, approval may be given and the alterations may proceed.

Failing to follow the process

The National Heritage Resources Act clearly states that no person may alter or demolish any structure, or part of a structure, which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.

Failing to obtain the necessary approval prior to implementing any alterations is therefore in direct contravention of this legislation and will result in penalties as set out in the Act. These penalties range from fines and reversing any alterations to completely reinstating a demolished building and even imprisonment.

Following the correct process is naturally the best course of action, and consulting the relevant authorities and professionals should form part of the initial stage should any alteration be desired in order to avoid these negative consequences.

Written by Wessel de Kock

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