The territorial labelling of a heritage site in the north-eastern Cape Drakensberg, South Africa

The case of the Linton Cave

By Gavin Heath; Bachelor of Arts, Higher Diploma in Education, Master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning; Geography Education; Lecturer - School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal

This study shows how the territorial labelling of a specific unofficial heritage site in the north eastern Cape Drakensberg, South Africa contributed to a contested, fragile and obscure national identity, in the form of figures on the nation’s coat of arms.

The methodology analysed the language harnessed by both the South African government and the South African Museum in Cape Town, which houses the excised Linton Panels.  Furthermore, a number of maps were analysed to show how the area was, and still is, neglected and marginalized.

Moreover, a few academic papers were studied.  These papers show not only how the cave was cut into, and the panels excised for transport to the South African Museum, but also how no further significance, or protection, was attached to the extremely noteworthy shelter whence the panels came.

The territorial area today is marked by deep spatial and cultural inequalities (extremely vulnerable communities are living in close proximity), despite half-hearted and incipient measures to revive the area’s economy. 


This paper was presented at the La Montagne, territoire d’innovation conference in Grenoble in January 2017 – under the S4 heading (Territorial labelling: holding onto heritage and innovating? – Putting “distinction” to the test of time) (Heath, 2017) – the presentation appeared to be well-received and a number of delegates asked questions about the conservation and heritage status of the shelter/-cave.

The genesis of this paper was an abiding fascination with the Linton Panels, which have been on permanent display at the South African Museum in Cape Town since about the late 2000s. Work was carried out to explore where the cave is situated and to find out how to get permission to visit the site (see Map 1). Finally in December 2015 the author was granted access to the shelter by the farmer and two guides who showed the way.  The paper is structured in a way that charts the significance of the paintings from how they are displayed in the country’s premier museum to how they are discussed in the literature. Maps will also be analysed to show the total obscurity of the site.  Development and conservation issues and initiatives – incipient and half-hearted as they may be at present – will point a way forward.

From cave to a country’s coat-of-arms

It is very noteworthy – perhaps even peculiar – that figures in a completely obscure cave off the beaten track in such a remote mountainous area have found their way to the highest symbology a country has, namely its coat -of -arms. A coat -of -arms is meant to encapsulate a country’s values and purpose, and is used for all official functions, ranging from the courts to the uniforms of military personnel. However, as this paper will show, the key human figures on the coat –of -arms are not a true representation of the original figure found at the Linton Cave. The following four texts articulate several salient perspectives and concerns regarding the figures.  The first reveals the official national significance attached to the figures, and the second conveys a history website’s view of the figures. In the third, a noted archaeologist’s view of the figures is provided, followed in the fourth, by a letter writer’s concerns over the clear emasculation of the figures as shown on the coat -of -arms.

“The figures are derived from images on the Linton stone, a world-famous example of South African rock art, now housed and displayed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. The Khoisan, the oldest known inhabitants of our land and most probably of the Earth, testify to our common humanity and heritage as South Africans and as humanity in general. The figures are depicted in an attitude of greeting, symbolising unity. This also represents the beginning of the individual’s transformation into the greater sense of belonging to the nation and by extension, collective humanity” (GCIS, accessed 28 October 2016).

This language clearly suggests what a government sees as important and visionary, namely the significance and aim of coming together.

Figure 1 : South African coat-of-arms © Droits réservés

South African History Online provides a nuanced context of the human figure in the shield:

“The figure comes from the Linton panel, a famous panel of rock art now housed and displayed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. In 1917, this panel was removed from the farm of Linton in the Maclear district in the Eastern Cape.

Eighty-three years in museum care, protected from the elements, has made the Linton panel one of the best preserved of all pieces of South African rock art. In 1995, the panel featured as one of the premiere attractions in the international exhibition, Africa the Art of a Continent” (South African History Online, accessed 1 November 2016). 

Figure 2 : The actual Linton figure © Droits réservés

It is clear that no real context, such as the origin of the panel, who painted the figure or what happened to the painter’s descendants is given.

David Lewis-Williams, a noted South African archaeologist, takes issue with how the image has been misrepresented for national and quasi-patriotic purposes (see Figure 2):

“The image selected for the coat of arms is a male human figure….-It holds an unusually large bow in one hand and a stick or spear in the other – it is not, as the coat of arms has it, a pair of facing men…. The heraldry experts who oversaw the final design of the coat of arms made some significant changes. Principally, they duplicated and reversed the figure to give the impression of two men greeting one another. In addition, they omitted the facial lines… and, presumably in the interests of propriety, the figure’s penis” (Lewis-Williams, 2011, p.15-17).

In a letter published by the Financial Mail, entitled “Symbols gone wrong”, the writer draws attention to the removal or omission of the true appearance of the male figure on the coat- of -arms:

“Was it entirely appropriate to deliberately omit the genitalia from one of Linton Stone’s historical figures that occupy the centre of our national coat of arms?” (Ronbeck, 2015).

Indeed a country’s coat- of -arms is meant to represent the true and complete essence of a country.  However, it is clear that misrepresentation and manipulation took place as Barnard points out (2004, pp. 8, 9).

The labelling of the panels at the South African Museum, Cape Town

The Linton Panels occupy pride of place in the South African Museum, Cape Town and dominate the archaeological display in the hall where they are displayed.  The paintings’ precision, colouring and imagery of the paintings are breathtaking.  “It is one of the greatest rock art panels in any museum anywhere in the world.  That is a bold statement, but its excellent preservation, astonishing detail and the light its study throws on San rock art in general assure its primacy” (Lewis-Williams, 2011, p.14).

The following wording on the panels shows the importance given to the origin of the paintings, and the method undertaken to transport them to the present location:

“These two remarkable painted panels…were removed from the farm Linton in the Maclear District, Eastern Cape, and brought to the South African Museum in 1917. The paintings were probably done by San artists between 1000 and 2000 years ago. Mr GST Mandy of the Provincial Roads Department ‘rescued’ them to prevent their destruction in the course of road works. After removal from the wall of the rock shelter, they were transported by ox wagon and train to Cape Town. About 1.5 m of painted rock was destroyed on either side of panel B. The paintings remaining in the Linton rock shelter today (see photo left) are still visible.” (South African Museum, viewed 7 November 2015).

No map of the actual location of the shelter is indicated on the panels, just a small-scale map showing the location of Maclear, the railway station closest to the farm, and the route to Cape Town. Moreover, despite the official explanation, the shelter or cave is at least 5 kilometres from the nearest road where road works reportedly occurred and is very difficult to access. Thus, the statement that the paintings were “rescued” is quite clearly untrue. Moreover, as Ouzman points out, no attention is given to the location, or the highly skilled craftsmen who painted such exquisite paintings:

“Yet no contextual information helps visitors to imagine where the artifact came from or what it ‘cost’ in terms of money, effort, or destruction to the site to preserve it. Understanding these costs and the intertwining of past and present reveals a critical absence—the voices of Linton’s authors” (Ouzman, 2006, p.349).

Davison (2012, p.25), furthermore, explains that the Linton Panels were labelled simply with the name of the farm whence they came and the name of the donor.

The distinction of the paintings – Mandy’s discovery of the paintings

It took a hardworking and patriotic employee of the Roads Department, and inveterate part-time explorer, to go out of his way to discover the paintings-during his free time, no less- in a cave completely isolated from where he was normally working. He must have been informed of the existence of the paintings by one of the road workers or people residing in the area, as it is impossible to discover the cave by chance. The following quotations show the distinction of the paintings but also the neglect of and damage to the site – even at the time. These texts also indicate the subsequent oblivion into which the site from which the panels were hewn has fallen:

Mr GST Mandy informed Dr Peringuey, the director, of the SA Museum in Cape Town “of the possibility of removing ‘really magnificent’ rock paintings from a remote rock shelter on the farm Linton in the Maclear district of what is now the Eastern Cape” (Lewis-Williams, 2011, p.8) and that the cost of excising the paintings “would be worth any money if successfully removed” (ibid).

“Delighted though they were, neither the Roads Department assistant nor the museum director could have had any idea of the far-reaching final outcome of their endeavours and of the role that the removed rock would play in the construction of a new national  identity some 80 years later” (Lewis-Williams, 2011, p.9).

Recent personal communication, from a senior manager at the South African Museum, shows the lost opportunities that occurred during the excision of the panels and the near destruction of the site:

“It is very sad that the panel was removed and yes, it would most certainly have been our own Lascaux – at least [we] will still have a few Chauvets… (Game Pass, Bushman’s Kloof etc.)” (pers. comm., Black). 

If the site had been preserved, it could certainly have become a Lascaux-like attraction under ideal conditions. However, with very different visitor numbers and tourism preferences than is the case with the famous French site, it is just as likely the paintings would have just withered away.

Heritage site has fallen into almost total obscurity and neglect

Orientation maps for the Linton cave © Brice Gijsbertsen, UKZN Pietermaritzburg, 2017

The Linton shelter is not an official or a recognised heritage site, nor does any literature or map provide its exact location even though it is the origin of the most important national symbology.

The author, in his research for this paper and in an attempt to find out more about the site, phoned the South African Heritage Resources Agency in Cape Town three times in November 2016 but the telephone was never picked up. This agency has a comprehensive list of paintings on farms that would have been useful to find information about the actual farm.

No attempt has been made to proclaim the area an important heritage area (or at least, no information about such an attempt has been made public). The closest extensive and well-known protected area is the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (UDP WHS), located approximately 135km to the north in the direction of Bushman’s Nek. The nearest protected area, which cannot be compared to the UDP WHS because it is so unknown and marginal, is Malekgonyane (near Ongeluksnek, in the vicinity of Matatiele, nearly 60km away).

The original character of the area, which belonged to the San or Bushmen, has been completely transformed, as evidenced by the names given to the farms and by the private ownership of the farms (except for the former Transkei homeland east of the farm boundaries). This colonial appropriation is visible in the farm names that evoke an association with northern England and with Scotland. The name Linton probably hails from North Derbyshire or Northumberland (northern England, the name means bleak and windswept). The adjacent farms’ names Melton and Houghton are also of English origin. Farms were very carefully surveyed and sold to Dutch and British settlers. Linton farm belongs to a branch of the local Naude family, after whom the nearby Naude’s Nek pass is named. On the other side of the farms are tribal or community lands.

The shelter is extremely isolated, and it is very difficult to visit the site. It is laborious to find the location of the shelter and it is even harder to reach it. The author had to seek permission from the farmer through the owner of a neighbouring guest farm and take a guide to the road head via an extremely arduous and convoluted route. Another guide then had to be hired to take the author to the actual cave.  It would have been impossible to find the cave without all of this help.

A faint goat track leads from the road head and nearest subsistence farmers’ shelters to the cave. The cave is hidden out of view in a small kloof (ravine) and very careful route finding is needed to enter the cave. At the time of the visit in December 2015, it looked as it must have looked in 1918, when the panels were excised. The chippings from the panels still lie on the floor of the cave, and the excisions still look remarkably recent.  As Lewis-Williams (2011, p.9) explains,

“Today, next to nothing remains in the rather damp rock shelter from which the slab was removed.”

There are still noteworthy paintings on unexcised walls of the shelter, but the dominant impression is that the ones that were removed were the best.

The shelter is situated just beneath a fairly extensive plateau and offers beautiful views over the valley below and the main Drakensberg escarpment. If anti-erosion and soil rehabilitation measures were carried out, as well as a proper tourism strategy, were carried out, the place could become a tourist site.  At present, the problems attending the site likely prevent any tourists, except the hardiest and most adventurous, from visiting the location. This cave, as well as the other nearby caves (there are at least two highly attractive ones within a radius of 10 km of the site) containing San paintings, is therefore a lost and indeed a wasted tourism opportunity. As Duval and Smith (2012, p.1) explain,

“the problems affecting rock art tourism have allowed the retention of unwelcome values from South Africa’s pre-democratic era, risk the loss of World Heritage site status, the destruction of globally outstanding art works and waste an important opportunity to expand and diversify sustainable tourism in South Africa.”

If the site were rehabilitated, the five types of visitors (“hedonists, outdoor and sports tourists, information seekers, rock art enthusiasts and general sightseers”) listed by Duval and Smith (2014, p. 34) would visit the site and thereby contribute to sustainable rock art tourism in the area.  Certainly, the site’s surroundings would satisfy the tourism needs of these five types. It is not beyond reason to envisage a rock art tour or trail in this area as per adventure tourism.

Territorial labelling by cartography

Neither the survey diagrams nor the maps analysed for this paper provide any indication of the shelter. 

Survey diagrams

In the immaculately recorded survey diagram of the farm, it is clear that the farm is bounded by farms with English names: Melton, Bosworth and Houghton. The only neighbouring farm with an African name is Pitsing. The northern side of the farm is bounded by Lehana’s Location (Surveyor-General, 1895). Streams are recorded on the diagram, however, and the absolute precision that went into recording the dimensions of the farm is striking. There is no trace of the cave on the diagram, however, probably because it was unknown when the diagram was drawn up. It is also worth remembering that, at the time, Bushman or San art was not seen as significant or worthy of preservation.

In the much more recent Surveyor-General diagram (1991), the exact international border between the then Republic of Transkei (a homeland, or a quasi- independent state during the apartheid era) and the territory of the Republic of South Africa at the time is shown. The northern and eastern borders of the farm Linton No. 5 form the international border between the former homeland (proclaimed in 1976, disestablished 1994) and apartheid-era South Africa.  The survey was conducted in September and October 1991.


A review of colonial-era maps (General Staff, 1908, and Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping, 1910) shows the naming and delineation of European-owned farms and the colonial penetration (trading stores and mission stations) in then tribal or indigenous areas.  They show no sign of the shelter. The 1908 map is a military map (surveyed by a Royal Field Artillery officer) and shows artillery positions at strategic sites on the map and military posts/ police stations in the towns.

Apartheid-era maps (Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping, 1982 & 1988) do not show the location of the shelter despite the presence of the panels in the South African Museum at this time. The 1:50000 map from 1982 uses black dots to depict isolated homesteads east of the Linton farm boundary.  The 1:250000 map from 1988 shows the convoluted international border between the republics of Transkei and South Africa. No cave is shown, except for one overlooking a neighbouring valley. The updated 1994 version of the 1:250000 map omits any mention of the Republic of Transkei; instead the border has been used to delineate magisterial districts. The South African side of the border is labelled under the Maclear Magisterial District. No monument or heritage site is shown on this updated map, besides the Naude Monument at the base of Naude’s Nek pass.  Black dots indicating dwellings are shown around Ncambalala on the former Transkei side; no habitations are found on the commercial stock farms. Interestingly, there are two police stations in this area (one in Cairntoul near the Lesotho border, and the other in Elands Heights). Stock theft and issues related to sensitive border areas are the reason for the placement of two police stations in such a remote and inaccessible area.

Significance of heritage site and mountain development

Today the area is characterized by commercial stock farms and timber production on the former South African side of the border and subsistence farming in the former Transkei.  There is only one guest farm, which doubles as a working farm, and one hotel at the top of the Naude’s Nek Pass, some 35 km from the Linton shelter.

The legacy of the former Transkei homeland, with its highly vulnerable and poverty-stricken communities, is apparent (Porter, G. & Phillips‐Howard, K., 1997, pp. 186, 187). Very poor people are living and trying to eke out a living on the subsistence agriculture areas, which do not belong to private individuals but are communal areas. The environmental impacts of the overstocking of goats and cattle is clear (both gully and sheet erosion occur).  Some people in the area suffer from lung disease picked up from mining, which was the primary economic activity of many of Transkei’s citizens (Porter, G. & Phillips‐Howard, K., 1997, p.187; Meel, 2002). There is even a pass called Pondo Pass over the adjacent Drakensberg, where members of the Mpondo ethnic group scaled the Drakensberg en route to the mining fields farther north.

In more recent years, South Africa’s national conservation body (SANParks) commissioned a consultancy to investigate whether or not a conservation and development area (CDA) should be proclaimed in the north-eastern Cape Drakensberg. The CDA proposal does indicate the significance of the site. In its recommendation for the area to be proclaimed a World Heritage Site, it includes, under “important cultural elements of the area”, the “location of the well-known human images which appear on the South African coat-of-arms.” Furthermore, the report states that, according to the Rock Art Research Institute, there is

“an abundance of San Rock Art in numerous sites that are of superior quality and state of preservation to that found in the UDP WHS” (Golder Associates Africa (Pty) Ltd, 2011, p. 26). 

The report’s authors conclude that:

“the establishment of a C&DA and associated hospitality infrastructure and services is likely to, inter alia:

  • Promote the establishment of a regional destination for adventure and cultural tourism; and

  • Promote the establishment of the area as an international and national destination if the area is nominated for inclusion into the adjacent Drakensberg World Heritage Site, or as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) ‘Geopark’ site” (Golder Associates Africa (Pty) Ltd, 2011, pp. iv, 27).

The CDA was found to be viable with respect to the three major legs of any conservation and development initiative:

“In terms of the overall conclusion of this project, the team has found that, given the conservation goals of the investment, the establishment of a Conservation and Development Areas in the North Eastern Cape High Altitude Grasslands is feasible, from an economic, social and environmental perspective” (Golder Associates Africa (Pty) Ltd, 2011, p.27). 

In addition the borders of the CDA would include the Linton shelter and other notable caves (in high-altitude grassland areas) containing San paintings. The proposed CDA would also assist in what Duval and Smith (2014, p.45) call for:

“Today, a more market-orientated, regional and integrated development approach seems to us the most constructive step towards developing sustainable rock art tourism as well as guaranteeing the long-term preservation of rock art sites.”

Without a drawcard such as a proclaimed protected area, it is very unlikely that rock art tourism and indeed the protection of rock art sites will develop. The latest news about the progress or status of the CDA proposal from the Head of Park Planning and Development of SANParks is that “its (sic) been included into a GEF funded project and falls under the ECPTA to implement” (pers. comm., Knight).  GEF refers to the Global Environment Facility and ECPTA is the abbreviation for the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. This is very positive news and what sustainable rock art protection and tourism needs. Upon enquiry into the progress of the CDA proposal, the ECPTA stated that it “has signed a MOA (in 2016) which includes a target of establishing 30 000 ha of new protected areas in two priority areas, the Amathole Mountains and the NE Grasslands, by 2019” (pers. comm., Geach). Only time will tell whether the Linton Cave, and the other area demarcated under the proposed CDA, is accorded some protection and recognition for contributing so significantly to a nation’s identity, however obtuse that process may have been.


Journal articles
  • Barnard, A. (2004). Coat of Arms and the Body Politic: Khoisan Imagery and South African National Identity. Ethnos, 69:1, 5-22, DOI: 10.1080/0014184042000191807.
  • Davison, P. (2012).  Limitations of Labels: Interpreting Rock Art at the South African Museum. Journal of Museum Ethnography, 25, 19-34.  Objects and Words: Writing On, Around, and About Things Papers from the Annual Conference of the Museum Ethnographers Group Held at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 14-15 April 2011 (2012).  Museum Ethnographers Group Stable URL:
  • Duval, M. & Smith, W.M. (2012). Rock art tourism in the uKhahlamba/Drakensberg World Heritage Site: obstacles to the development of sustainable tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-20.
  • Duval, M. & Smith, W.M. (2014). Seeking sustainable rock art tourism: the example of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. South African Archaeological Bulletin 69 (199): 34-38.
  • Meel, B.L. (2002). Patterns of Lung Diseases in Former Mine Workers of the Former Republic of the Transkei: An X-ray-based Study. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 8 (2), 105-110.
  • Porter, G. & Phillips‐Howard, K. (1997). Agricultural issues in the former homelands of South Africa: the Transkei, Review of African Political Economy, 24:72, 185-202, DOI: 10.1080/03056249708704252.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D. (2011). San Rock Art. Athens: Ohio University Press.
  • Golder Associates Africa (Pty) Ltd (2011). Feasibility Study: North Eastern Cape Grassland Conservation and Development Area. Kloof: Golder Associates.
Chapter of a collective work
  • Ouzman, S. (2006). Why “conserve”? Situating southern African rock art in the here and now. In N. Agnew & J. Bridgeland (Eds.), Of the past, for the future: integrating archaeology and conservation (346-352). Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.
 Conference or symposium proceedings
Unpublished doctoral dissertations or theses
  • Ouzman, S. (2008). Imprints; an archaeology of identity in post-Apartheid southern Africa.  Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) (2000). National Coat of Arms., consulted on 28 October 2016.
  • South African History Online (2016). South African National Symbols and Heritage. http://, consulted 1 November 2016.
Personal communications
  • Black, W. (Wendy), (Ph.D.), 30 May 2016.
  • Geach, B. (Bev), 6 April 2017.
  • Knight, M. (Michael), (Ph.D.), 5 April 2017.  
  • Ronbeck, P. Symbols gone wrong, Financial Mail, 10-16 December 2015.
 Surveying diagrams
  • Surveyor-General (1895). Survey diagram (S.G. Dgm. No.4529/1895) of The Farm Linton No. 5, MACLEAR. A. Goodger, Government Land Surveyor, Mount Fletcher, December 1894.
  • Geographical Section, General Staff No. 1764 (1908). africa Mount Fletcher SHEET SOUTH H 35.
  • Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping (1910). 05 TRANSKEIN (sic) TERRITORIES 1900-1910. Mowbray: Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping.
  • Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping (1982). 1: 50 000 3028CB SETABATABA THIRD EDITION. Mowbray: Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping.
  • Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping (1988). 1: 250 000 3028 KOKSTAD Fourth Edition. Mowbray: Chief Directorate: Surveys and Mapping (updated version 1994).


Citer ce billet
Stéphanie Rouanet (2017, 8 septembre). The territorial labelling of a heritage site in the north-eastern Cape Drakensberg, South Africa. Les carnets du Labex ITEM. Consulté le 13 juin 2024, à l’adresse