FW de Klerk leaves his footprint on the Cradle of Humankind

  • July 30, 2014 | Sarah Came

Former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate FW de Klerk (right) with Professor Francis Thackeray at the Sterfontein Caves

On 29 July 2014, former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate FW de Klerk left his footprint at a place where the human journey began.

De Klerk spent the morning at the Sterkfontein Caves and touring the Maropeng Visitor Centre, before leaving his footprint for posterity.

Several heads of state and Nobel laureates have already left their footprints at Maropeng.

De Klerk’s morning at Maropeng began with a walk along the path to the Sterkfontein Caves, which explains the creation of Earth as we know it, from the big bang to the beginnings of life on earth and the evolution of the first hominids.

Professor Francis Thackeray, director of the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits University, guided De Klerk, his wife Elita and the rest of their party along the walkway, explaining each stop as they went along, and sharing interesting anecdotes with the group.

FW de Klerk, his wife Elita and Lindsay Marshall, head of communications at Maropeng

Both De Klerk and his wife agreed that what they learnt along the walk to the caves was “mind-boggling”, and both seemed fascinated and asked many questions. De Klerk, talking about the walk through time, said, “I think this is a splendid idea.”

After the walk at the caves, De Klerk was given a tour through the Maropeng Visitor Centre, guided by Mathabele Tsikoane, who won a gold award in the West Rand Tourism 2014 Hospitality Awards.

As they proceeded through the Visitor Centre, De Klerk paused to read and discuss aspects of the exhibit with his wife, and joked with Tsikoane and asked him many questions. When they reached the boat ride, De Klerk and his wife seemed delighted, smiling and laughing as the boat rolled into the water.

When the tour was finished, everyone gathered outside in the sunshine to watch De Klerk make his footprint. Speeches were made by Mags Pillay, director of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, Councillor Barry Friedman, of Mogale City municipality, Dawn Robertson, CEO of Gauteng Tourism, palaeoanthropologist Professor Lee Berger and De Klerk himself.

FW de Klerk with a bronze cast of a fossilised skeleton of an Austrolopithicus sediba hand, given to him as a gift

Pillay welcomed and introduced the speakers, and spoke about the significance of the footprints that Maropeng is collecting. He said that the “heads of state and Nobel laureates footprints strategy is meant to symbolise the story that all living people today can trace their ancestry to the African continent, and to a common and a shared ancestry”.

Friedman briefly welcomed the various attendees, and said, “It is an honour and a privilege for me to be standing here today to do the welcome.” He also said to De Klerk, “We trust that this is going to be as special a day for you as it is going to be for us.”

Robertson then spoke about how tourism benefits society, the country and the economy, and spoke about the significance of the site. She said that she believes that “the best of this site is yet to come”, and commented that “the quality of the fossils found in the area are unrivalled”.

To De Klerk, she said, “We believe that your presence here today is a symbol of peace, reconciliation and unity for all South Africans.”

De Klerk then left his footprint to be displayed with those of other Nobel laureates and heads of state, following which he also spoke.

FW de Klerk's footprint and signature

Speaking about his tour of the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng Visitor Centre, De Klerk said, “We really enjoyed it and found it extremely stimulating.”

De Klerk reminisced about when he had visited the Sterkfontein Caves as a youngster with his family more than 70 years ago, and proudly told the audience that he is from the area, and still considers himself a Wesrander.

De Klerk spoke passionately about the unique ability of the human species to manage and affect change in its environment, and said that it is this ability to create change that allows us to do great things.

De Klerk reminded us that the “process of change never ends”, and said that when he was invited to leave his footprint at Maropeng, he did so “in the awareness that we are continuing a long process of change”.

De Klerk said that it is the responsibility of each South African to work towards the kind of South Africa that they want to live in, and that freeing Nelson Mandela was an action that he had taken with this in mind.

De Klerk and Dawn Robertson, CEO of Gauteng Tourism

“I was fated to take the huge step of ending apartheid … Today, I am taking a step further than this … I am taking this step as a commitment to a united and prosperous future for South Africa, and for all Africans, and for every person on this planet.”

Berger spoke briefly about the fact that we have the ability “as a species to change the world” and that there are also “individuals who changed the world”. He said that those who are being invited to leave their footprints at Maropeng are such people, and “that is also a mark of the 200 000-year evolution of humanity”.

Before the gathering departed for a lunch held at the Visitor Centre, De Klerk told everyone present, “We must allow each other to practise and honour our own specific cultures … and at the same time we must take hands and work together. We share a common future, we need each other – together we are South Africa.”

Professor Francis Thackeray in the Maropeng Vistor Centre

Mathabele Tsikoane, winner of a gold award in the West Rand Tourism 2014 Hospitality Awards and De Klerk's tour guide

The De Klerks study an exhibit in the Maropeng Vistor Centre

De Klerk places his hands in the imprints of Nelson Mandela's hands

De Klerk makes his footprint

De Klerk and his wife, Elita

De Klerk and his party prepare for their boat ride through time

Professor Lee Berger speaks at the ceremony

To see more images from FW de Klerk's visit, view our galleries: 

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