Namibia gained instant fame in July 2007, when Twyfelfontein became the country’s first World Heritage Site.
Tourists flocked from all over to admire one of the largest concentrations of rock art in Africa. The National Heritage Council of Namibia (NHC) through the National Heritage Act of 2004 was tasked with being the legal custodian of the site. In co-operation with the local community, the NHC ensures that the site is well maintained and will be preserved for future generations.
In 2008, over 50 000 tourists visited Twyfelfontein. As the reputation of the World Heritage Site grows, visitor numbers are expected to increase even further. Preservation of the cultural heritage resources at Twyfelfontein has furthermore contributed to an increase in tourism development in the area. This in turn contributes towards poverty alleviation, improving the quality of life and the empowerment of the local people.
The NHC has empowered the local community by using local tour guides to interpret their rich cultural history. As a result, not only do tourists to the area benefit from local insight; local people are also made aware of the importance of preserving their cultural heritage for long-term benefit.
Thirty-five per cent of the revenue received from tourism through entrance fees at the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site is shared with members of the local community to help them meet their basic needs. The highest portion of this income is used for the wages of local tour guides. The Traditional Authority at Twyfelfontein furthermore receives an annual payment from the NHC, since the Traditional Authority is one of the important stakeholders in the conservation of the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site.
Sharing their unique cultural heritage with tourists has created a sense of pride for the history and future of Twyfelfontein among the local people and given them social and cultural benefits. Community members are proud that their cultural heritage has reached international significance by being on UNESCO’s prestigious list of unique sites with ‘outstanding universal value’.
The Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site contributes to employment creation for the local people at the Uibasen Conservancy. The increased demand for camping sites and accommodation from the growing number of tourists to the area has resulted in the employment of the majority of residents in the area. The NHC has also provided community members with permanent employment to work as cashiers, cleaners and security guards at Twyfelfontein.
In the effort to further empower the local community, the NHC has given local people the opportunity to own the craft shop and operate it on a rent-free basis. Benefits from craft production and sales are shared among the members of the community. A local entrepreneur who is a member of the Uibasen Conservancy runs the kiosk at the site.
The management plan of the NHC for Twyfelfontein has incorporated capacity building as a strategy to empower the local people through training, and equipped them with the skills necessary to fully participate in cultural heritage tourism development.
There is no doubt that the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site plays a significant role in the socioeconomic development of Namibia. The National Heritage Council will continue to promote sustainable cultural tourism development at Twyfelfontein for the benefit of the local community, now and in the future.
This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.