Maropeng guide Keolebogile Keswa.

Every year, tourist guides at Maropeng lead thousands of people along a complex and fascinating journey through the visitor centres in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

To celebrate International Tourist Guide Day on 21 February 2021, we chat to three of our guides about their experiences on the job and the journey that led them to Maropeng.

For Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves guide Keolebogile Keswa, the best part of her job is the educational aspect.

“It was very hard when I started, since it was my first time learning about evolution and humankind,” says Keswa.

“I enjoy meeting people and helping them understand evolution – especially school kids. It’s so nice to see them leaving Maropeng with a better understanding of what evolution is and [engaging in the] debates we have about evolution.”

Keswa’s journey to become a guide at Maropeng started when a family friend told her about a post at Maropeng at a time when she was searching for a job.

“I decided to try my luck and sent my CV,” she says. “A week or two after that, I was called for an interview. I made it through the interview and I took the opportunity.”

“What led me to where I am now is perseverance. It’s not a simple job. You have to deal with people on a daily basis – kids and adults. I am very pleased when guests say, ‘Thank you for your lesson. We learnt a lot and we had fun’.”

Maropeng guide Kenneth Mawete.

For Keswa’s colleague Kenneth Mawete, being a tourist guide was a calling.

“It fills my heart to know that someone in a group of 40 will go home and be inspired to be a guide one day. It has saved us, as young people, to come to work knowing that we are changing people’s perspectives on evolution and science.”

Mawete’s favourite memory on the job was being able to guide visitors through exhibitions of the world-renowned Homo naledi fossils, which were at Maropeng in 2015 and 2017.

His advice to those who have their sights set on becoming a guide like him is: “Educate yourself about everything. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t make it. Know that there’s a start to everything, even if it’s starting small. Perseverance takes a person a long way.”

For Thabo Nkomo, who has been a guide at Maropeng since 2014, it is a sense of pride in South Africa’s rich heritage that keeps him motivated.

“What made me become a tourist guide is the interest that I have in my country and learning about the different sites that we have. I think it’s important for all South Africans to know the history behind their country,” says Nkomo.

“What I enjoy about my job is that I get to meet people from everywhere in the world. I get to learn about different cultures. I get to learn about different religions and the attractions that they have in their countries.”

Nkomo’s best memory on the job was when he got an opportunity to participate in the science that has made the Cradle of Humankind a site of global significance.

“We were exploring some of the national sites that we have in Gauteng, and I got to have first-hand experience in excavating fossils and the whole process of how fossils are found, how they’re excavated.”

Maropeng curator Keneiloe Molopyane says the guides are the heart of the experience at the Maropeng and Sterkfontein Visitor Centres in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

“What is a travel experience without a tourist guide? A rather empty one, let me tell you that. As much as we like to venture out on our own, the insights shared about the Cradle of Humankind by our professional guides are world-class and second to none.”