Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding in Southern Africa

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as:


  • Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  •  Performing arts;
  • Social practices, rituals and festive events;
  • Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
  • Traditional craftsmanship

Here is a brief account on what actually took place since 2009 and how did eight Southern African countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe (States Parties to the Convention) arrive an advanced stage of ICH safeguarding:


Flanders Government support

In June 2009 the UNESCO Windhoek Office received financial contribution from the Flanders Government to organise series of pilot projects in community-based intangible heritage inventorying on a grassroots level in six selected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The project, comprised of several phases, lasting till October 2011, aimed at conducting a series of pilot Intangible Cultural Heritage inventory-making activities on a grassroots level in six Sub-Saharan African countries, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, Swaziland and Zambia.

In the same vein, another project took place from March 2011- March 2013. It was entitled "Strengthening national capacities for implementing the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in four selected countries in Africa" and involved Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Through these projects, the national authorities of the concerned countries, together with communities have been able to devise cost-effective tools and methodologies to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage which created the future basis for nation-wide Intangible Cultural Heritage inventorying exercises.


MDG-F programme (Namibia)

As Namibia did not benefit from these projects, in 2010, UNESCO Windhoek in cooperation with the Namibian national counterparts implemented, on the same, Flanders funded model, ICH inventorying activities in the framework of the MDG – F Joint Programme on Sustainable Cultural Tourism in Namibia. The national workshop which was organised in Khorixas in April 2010 had also a greater aim of determining the Intangible Cultural Heritage strategy of Namibia. This project also contained the practical inventorying activities and was implemented at the selected pilot sites in three regions: Kunene, Omusati and Oshikoto.


Cyprus Government support

In September 2010 the UNESCO Windhoek Office was granted financial contribution by the Cyprus Government to organize training on preparation of nomination files to the lists of the 2003 Convention Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The proposed project provided practical technical skills in nominations preparation in Namibia and Lesotho with additional participation of Swaziland, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.



Further support of the Government of Flanders

A major breakthrough took place in 2013. The government of Flanders decided to support the achieved results in the Southern African sub-region and accept the proposal which will bring all the Southern African countries on the same page thus strengthening their cooperation for ICH safeguarding.

The project entitled "Strengthening sub-regional cooperation and national capacities in seven Southern African countries for implementing the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage” took place in 2014 and ended in March 2015.

It achieved the consensus and creation of a sub-regional cooperation platform to support seven countries in southern Africa in their efforts to safeguard the living heritage present in their territories. Consolidating the results of previous Flanders funded projects, this platform will be driven by the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Committees of the beneficiary countries. The project paid due attention to the adequacy of institutional environments, abilities to set up or revise legislative and policy frameworks and the availability of national expertise. Concrete outputs of the project include a pool of resource persons operational in the region and the revisions of policy or legislative frameworks.

The results achieved insured the creation of the national ICH committees, national capacity development, strong links to the communities inclusive of systematic capacity building for identification, inventorying and safeguarding of ICH. At the regional level, strong cooperation among the concerned countries resulted in the creation of a cooperation platform, currently hosted at the Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe.

Major recognition of these achievements took place during the 10th Intergovernmental Committee meeting held in Windhoek, Namibia.




Present day:

In January 2016, recognising the achievements, the Government of Flanders decided to extend their support to the Southern African partners once again. The second phase of the project “Strengthening sub-regional cooperation and national capacities in seven Southern African countries for implementing the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage will start its implementation in March 2016. Read about the progress at this LINK (to be linked by mid-February 2016).


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