Discovered in April, 1933, the Mapungubwe Kingdom was a flourishing Iron-Age metropolis on the Limpopo River, ruled by an African king almost a thousand years ago. The site is situated on the international borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
The Kingdom comprised a sophisticated state system, with highly developed agriculture, mining, and metallurgy industries and traded with countries as far afield as China.
According to the Archaeology Department of the University of the Witwatersrand, Mapungubwe represented 'the most complex society in Southern Africa'.
In July 2003, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape became South Africa's fifth World Heritage site and was officially announced as Mapungubwe National Park in May 2004. All cultural items that were uncovered from the site are part of a heritage collection which can be viewed at the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria.
THE CULTURAL IMPORTANCE OF MAPUNGUBWE
Intellectual and writer Vele Neluvhalani thinks mining near Mapungubwe will be “an offence to our ancestors”.
Vele “Christopher” Neluvhalani believes that on a fundamental level, people have always been connected to the earth, visible by the traces they leave behind, like the ancient rock art on the sandstone outcrops in Mapungubwe.
Neluvhalani feels a deep connection to this ancient place, because his ancestors lived there thousands of years before him. He is bound to the area not only by tradition, but when he visits there and climbs to the top of Mapungubwe hill, he feels he has returned home.
However, the announcement that authorisation has been given to an Australian mining company called Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL) to construct an open-cast mine just outside the boundaries of the Mapungubwe National Park will change all this. This is because Neluvhalani believes that “it would be an offence to our ancestors to start mining in the area.”
Neluvhalani was involved in the reburying of his ancestors’ remains at Mapungubwe, after they were recently reclaimed from a museum collection and restored to their rightful place.
“Once we tamper with Mapungubwe we will be tampering with the past,” says Neluvhalani, who feels that the ties we have to our ancient places like Mapungubwe compel us to prevent them from being compromised, and that “everyone in South Africa should be united to help preserve Mapungubwe”.
Mapungubwe was the capital city of a flourishing African kingdom 1 000 years ago and was one of 24 sites around the world added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2004. It is a natural treasure holding the history of 50 000 years of human development and contains priceless archaeological and paleontological treasures.
The area encompassed by the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site includes rock art sites, Early, Middle and Later Stone Age sites and Iron Age sites and reflects southern Africa’s complex history. This is why the area has been declared a “Cultural Landscape” and informs us about the long history of human interaction in this part of southern Africa.
The information held by Mapungubwe is important to all of us, because like the people at Mapungubwe, we are facing various social and environmental crises today. People in this area interacted, co-operated and fought with one another long before South Africa was colonised, and understanding the history held here can shape the way that we interact with one another today.