A recent weekend celebration of culture and heritage at Mapungubwe National Park will soon become an annual event. Wild was there for the first-ever SANParks lecture series, aptly titled Mapungubwe: The Beginning. By Arnold Ras

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Experience the magic of Mapungubwe National Park for yourself. Win a two-night stay for you and three friends at Leokwe Rest Camp, including a two-hour guided Heritage Tour of Mapungubwe Hill, to the value of R5,190. Scroll to the bottom of this page for entry details.

Mapungubwe-Leokwe Rest Camp-Arnold Ras-min

Swim between natural rocks at Leokwe Camp. Pictures by Arnold Ras

An irresistible invitation

For years I’d been itching to see Mapungubwe National Park’s imposing baobabs, fall asleep in a safari tent and discover the many wonders of the mysterious Mapungubwe Hill. When SANParks announced the launch of a heritage lecture series at the incredible Mapungubwe, my bag was as good as packed. Finally, I could experience the park’s attractions for myself.

At the beginning of Heritage Month, I made my way north for a weekend of cultural celebration. SANParks was hosting the event – in collaboration with Wild Card, Limpopo Tourism Agency, National Arts Council of South Africa and National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences – to showcase Mapungubwe’s assets as a World Heritage Site.

Mapungubwe-hill view-Arnold Ras-min
For one whole weekend, heritage practitioners, esteemed academics and other luminaries were treated to a wealth of knowledge. On the menu was a game drive, a guided tour of Mapungubwe Hill and the park’s impressive museum, and a visit to the confluence where the Shashe and Limpopo rivers meet. Not to forget an evening of traditional cuisine, indigenous music and performance art – enjoyed on the banks of the Limpopo River under a sky heavy with stars.

Mapungubwe Hill

Mapungubwe Hill-1-Arnold Ras-min

Mapungubwe, which borders both Zimbabwe and Botswana, is much more than the site of an ancient kingdom. As one elder said when we were chatting next to a dry Limpopo River, “It’s pregnant with meaning.”

It was a sunny morning as we made our way to Mapungubwe Hill. After several wooden steps, we reached the top – baobabs were everywhere to be seen. In the distance, elephants and other game walked graciously by. This was where the Golden Rhino was discovered, incontrovertible proof of a powerful kingdom that flourished more than seven centuries ago.

SANParks CEO-Mapungubwe-Arnold Ras-min

SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni enjoying the endless views from Mapungubwe Hill.

Mapungubwe-Hein Grobler-Arnold Ras-min

Wild Card programme manager Hein Grobler and Mapungubwe’s conservation manager, Solomon Lefoka.

Mapungubwe Hill guide-Arnold Ras-min

There’s little that guide Johannes Masalesa does not know about the famous Mapungubwe Hill.

Mapungubwe-clay pot remain-Arnold Ras-min

At the foot of Mapungubwe Hill, the settlement’s archaeological record is on display. And between all these many layers of history, a piece of an ancient pot caught my eye.

Home of the Golden Rhino

Mapungubwe-Museum-Arnold Ras-min

Mapungubwe’s Interpretive Centre and Museum is an architectural gem that has won no fewer than seven awards for its structure and sustainability. The building was as impressive as I’d hoped it would be and blended seamlessly into the surroundings.

Mapungubwe-Museum-2-Arnold Ras-min
Due to concerns pertaining to the trade of precious ancient artefacts, visitors to the centre are not allowed to photograph or film any of the items on display. My heart nearly stopped when I finally stood next to the famous Golden Rhino. Even though this one was a replica, it evoked admiration and respect for the people that had crafted it. People who were close to the wild inhabitants of the region.

Launch of the lecture series

Officially launching the lecture series, Dr Webber Ndoro, director of the African World Heritage Fund, took to the stage to discuss the park’s cultural, historic and spiritual significance. “Mapungubwe should be referred to as a heritage landscape, not just a site. More research has to be done.”

SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni labelled Mapungubwe Hill a sacred place that demands respect. “Tonight, we converge here because you are honouring our call. Our call for spirituality, and the beginning of a first lecture series about this place.”

As SANParks urges millennials to visit national parks, Fundisile highlighted the importance of touching the Earth lightly. “Mother Earth provides benefits to the people. Our national parks are places of connecting – of social cohesion – and valuing nature. Our parks should be places of peace.”

Mapungubwe: The Beginning, the brainchild of SANParks’ managing executive for tourism and marketing, Hapiloe Sello, proved not only insightful, but rewarded guests with a personal and profound connection to Mapungubwe’s magic. “Before we came here, I spoke to some people and said: ‘You are going to feel many things at Mapungubwe – some of it spiritual, and some of it emotional. Mapungubwe will touch you.’” And, indeed, it did.

Mapungubwe-Christopher Neluvhalani-Arnold Ras-min

Writer and researcher Dr Christopher Neluvhalani entertaining guests with some interesting elephant dung trivia on the way to Mapungubwe Hill.

Mapungubwe-Limpopo Forest Tented Camp-Arnold Ras-min

Limpopo Forest Tented Camp

Back home in Cape Town, wiping the last traces of Mapungubwe’s dust from my shoes, I couldn’t help but admit: Mapungubwe had stolen a part of my soul. That night, I closed my eyes while being surrounded by hundreds of baobabs, elephants and rocky hills as far as the eye can see.

Enter now!

Email the answer to the question below to [email protected] (subject line: Mapungubwe) before 21 October 2017. Remember to include your full names and contact details. Wild will randomly select the winner. The winner will be notified telephonically.

Question: What was the title of SANParks’ first lecture series?

Terms & conditions

  • The prize is valid from 23 October 2017 to 23 August 2018 outside school holidays and long weekends.
  • The prize may not be exchanged for cash and is not transferable.
  • Additional persons, meals, activities, transport, etc. are for the prize winner’s own account.
  • Reservations are subject to availability and bookings must be made in advance.
  • A prize letter must accompany the booking request.
  • You must be 18 years or older to take part.