My association with the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site has been a long and (in many respects) a very successful one. I headed the Management Authority from 2000, where there was, at the time, only the idea of a World Heritage Site, which had been newly listed. The infrastructure at Sterkfontein was a tiny little museum, probably the size of the average bedroom, run by the Rotary. Maropeng had been neither conceived of, nor had land to build it on, been obtained. The roads in the area were all mostly sand.

But there was this magnificent idea: that we could be world class and offer a unique, world class facility to the public; that we could showcase Africa and everything that our great continent had given to the World – both humanity itself and human culture. “No small thing”, as Professor Phillip Tobias so memorably put it. We coined the name “Cradle of Humankind”.

The Gauteng Provincial Government made available what was then a huge amount of money for the design, build and construction of a visitor centre (or visitor centres) and (when we asked them) a further amount for the construction of roads, including in many areas, cycle paths (which in those days were considered novel and revolutionary).

Building of Maropeng
The construction of Maropeng's Tumulus Building

I can take personal credit for having negotiated with Standard Bank for the donation of the 100ha of land on which Maropeng now stands. The conceptualising and building of the two visitor centres at Sterkfontein ajnd Maropeng took a little longer than three full years to complete. And suddenly, there it was. We had a unique building at a place we named “ Maropeng” the place of origins and a much more discrete one at Sterkfontein which complimented the landscape and which needed to be built mostly on stilts, because of the underlying caves.

It was a tremendous achievement and we watched as the tourism offerings in the area grow from 64 to over 400, just before Covid-19 struck. With that growth in tourism offerings came a growth in jobs and with more jobs, more food on the tables of many more people; more school fees being paid for children; more money for the local economy.

With the site built and established, I then left to live and work in the Western Cape. But in 2016, I was asked if I would consider returning to run Maropeng and Sterkfontein. This was at the point at which the discovery of Homo naledi was announced to an astonished world and put on display at Maropeng. At that point, we were getting 3000 people a day, who were willing to brave the elements and stand in the longest of queues to see for themselves this astonishing find, by Professor Lee Berger and his team.

Lee Bergerwith Homo Na 41793
Prof Lee Berger with Homo naledi

And this is where I have been for the past 6 years, honoured to have led an amazing team at the two sites. Who could ever have imagined what was coming? That two years ago, the world would be hit by a virus, so dangerous that we had to lock ourselves indoors for long periods of time. Aeroplanes stopped flying. Tourists stopped coming. And when we eventually reopened, it was under severe restrictions, both in terms of protocols, but particularly in terms of the numbers of people who would be allowed to be on group tours.

Who could possibly have imagined that tourism numbers would plummet from the heady days of Homo naledi to what we have now, a maximum of 400 a day – and even then, an average uptake of around 200? The devastation that Covid-19 has had on the tourism industry in general and Maropeng. Sterkfontein and the surrounding area of the Cradle of Humankind is quite beyond belief.

But New Year is very often a time of new beginnings. So, with increased vaccinations and the possibility of a milder form of the virus itself, perhaps – just perhaps - 2022 will be a brighter year with brighter prospects. That is what, I am sure, you all join me in wishing for ourselves.

I have decided to resign my position as Managing Director, effective from the 31st January 2022. My retirement age is imminent and it is fitting that someone new takes over the leadership, to take Maropeng and Sterkfontein into an exciting new era. I am humbled by the trust which has been placed in me to run these amazing visitor centres. I would be a liar if I were to say that it has all been easy going, especially after Covid took its toll.

And so I would like to wish you all a much better 2022. I wish everything of the very best for these amazing exhibition centres and thank everyone for the help support and cooperation I have received during my time here.

Africa still has a great deal more to give to the world. Just wait and see!

Happy new year

Day of Reconciliation