Mapungubwe was the perfect place to highlight the importance of community
The launch of SANParks Week and Mapungubwe’s new Interpretive Centre on Monday September 10 was a colourful affair that was well attended by local community members including royalty and elders, in addition to the usual dignitaries . A good representation of South Africa.
After unveiling the commemorative plaque at the entrance to the museum itself, by minister of environmental affairs, Edna Molewa, stakeholders including FNB COO, SANParks’ David Mabunda, ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga (also the director of the KARA heritage institute) and a variety of conservation officials were entertained in a tent at the day visitor’s centre.
A local dance group set the scene with a rousing display of traditional dress and singing before the keynote address was given by Molewa who outlined the thinking behind SANParks’ “mahala” week, stressing the importance of diversifying the visitor profile of SANParks’ clientele.
“This year’s launch is special in many ways – Mapungubwe is very important to us South Africans as it shows evidence of the largest kingdom in the African sub-continent between the 10th and 14th century. And Mapungubwe is one of the parks where the numbers of previously disadvantaged have been increasing every year.”
The crowd attending the brunch at the world heritage site was indeed exactly what she was talking about: the integration of communities in the management and activities as well as marketing the full scope of very different national parks scattered throughout South Africa.
“This year’s theme, “know your national parks”, is also fitting as we gather in a park that is so different to what most South Africans are familiar with.”
She was referring to a cultural heritage that Mapungubwe has to offer as opposed to the protection of natural heritage and biodiverse areas which many of the 22 national parks function to defend. The newly opened Interpretive Centre and the personal guided tours of the Mapungubwe hilltop are beyond a doubt, a national treasure.
The day before the well-publicised launch, a walking tour of excavations and the site of the iron-age civilization that abandoned the hill in 1200, brought home the importance of keeping alive ancestral heritage. Being on the site and walking on the paths of generations gone by, as well as an oral interpretation of the history by a local guide, ignited the imagination. We then moved on to see the physical evidence.
At the centre itself, striking panoramic views of the landscape of the 12000 hectare Mapungubwe national park are used to contextualise the collection of artefacts excavated over the last century in the sandstone hills. Curious clay figurines and bold pottery are carefully displayed in the stone and glass centre. The thoughtful journey culminates with a look at the golden rhino that has become a symbol of the area and visitors round off their tour with a short walk to a ridge that overlooks the sacred valley.
The centre was erected by 160 local craftsmen who took 27 months to craft the award winning design. The up-skilling of the community was part of an extended public works plan and just another key to the integration of broader communities in our national parks and striking a balance between development and conservation.
Funding has also been provided by FNB in line with their focus on conservation.
“The department and the South African government have worked very hard in the last few years to ensure that we pursue our development in a sustainable manner,” said Molewa. And as if to prove it, after brunch Molewa sat down with the local chiefs and royalty in an old-fashioned lekgotla.
- SANParks Week is an annual marketing tool to encourage communities to use the park. It applies to all parks except Boulders (penguins are mating) and Namaqua (peak season) where entry is free: it excludes accommodation.
- Mapungubwe is in Limpopo, on the border of Zmbabwe,: at the point where Botswana meets the two countries.
- Hilltop guided tour: R160 p/p
- Interpretive Centre: Visitors pay R40,40 (adults) and R20,20 (children) for a guided tour which takes about an hour. The extra cents charge is a community levy.
Inside the Interpretive Centre
Photographs by Samantha Hartshorne