South Africans are now able to air their views online regarding the protection of their cultural heritage through the South African Heritage Resources Agency's (SAHRA's) web-based database portal, launched last week.
The South African Heritage Resource Information System is available on http://www.sahra.org.za/sahris.
The portal is an exciting, first-of-its-kind initiative in the country, said SAHRA public relations officer, Berri Samuels.
"It takes SA heritage and puts everything into one place; it is accessible by all South Africans, through visiting the website and registering," she said.
"This is an administrative tool that can be used by Heritage Resource Management and other bodies."
Samuels said the website was created in a way that will show all online users how to explore the site and guide them on how to create and submit their applications.
"All records created from now on may be recorded, tracked and followed up by users," she said, adding that the applications include permits for archaeology, sites, heritage objects, graves and wrecks.
According to Samuels, decisions about permit applications are recorded and may now be tracked online.
"This is great progress for accessibility, transparency, prevention of loss and delays. The public may even use the web portal as a means to submit a nomination site for declaration," she said.
'Fully digitalised and paperless'
Project manager Nick Wiltshire said with the introduction of the web portal, all permit applications are now being submitted and recorded online.
"It's fully digitalised, it's paperless and it uses a very sophisticated GIS [Geographic Information System] platform and is the first website in the world where people can see a map with all the developments taking place across the country," he said.
"If people think that a particular proposed development in their area will result in the demolition of their heritage site, they can visit the web portal and express their objections or even leave messages of support."
The development of the plan began in January this year using the Drupal Content Management System platform in line with SAHRA's overall adoption of free open source software.
The system has been tested and used by SAHRA's employees since May this year and it is now being rolled out to all the country's nine provinces.
The system enables the efficient and co-ordinated management of South Africa's heritage and the maximum benefit to heritage resources by appropriate promotion and use of these resources.
The agency has already trained four heritage authorities in Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Free State. In January, more training will the done in the remaining provinces.
SAHRA, which is an agency of the Arts and Culture Department, is an administrative body responsible for the protection of South Africa's cultural heritage.