The Maropeng brand is recognised for so much more than its work showcasing the world-renowned fossil discoveries that have come out of South Africa. The visitor centre to the World Heritage Site is also known for its world-class facilities and well-maintained natural environments. This is made possible by the property management team, who work tirelessly to keep Maropeng spotless, functioning and germ-free, even during these turbulent times.

The Maropeng maintenance team makes sure that both the Maropeng Visitor Centre and the Sterkfontein Caves operate efficiently and are ready for all daily operations and special events. But since the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis, the team’s role and responsibilities have been extended to more than just the upkeep and functioning of both sites – they now assist in implementing the necessary measures to help contain and minimise the spread of the novel coronavirus on the properties.

While the national lockdown has had devastating effects on many sectors of the economy, some organisations in the tourism industry have started preparing for the gradual road to recovery. Attractions such as Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves, which were accustomed to thousands of visitors per year, find themselves in a position where they need to implement recovery measures and start preparing for resuming operations under much stricter safety conditions.

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(Image: Maropeng)

“It’s peaceful, quiet and almost a different place without the staff, students and tourists. While it’s not great for revenue, it is a chance for maintenance to get to areas that are difficult when we are operational,” says Maropeng’s property manager, Andrew Pheiffer, commenting on work life during the lockdown.

During this period, the maintenance team has been able to access all the critical keypoints and implement deep-cleaning measures to keep the visitor centres of the World Heritage Site safe and hygienic – all while adhering to the Covid-19 occupational health and safety protocols that are in place to protect staff still on site.

The maintenance of both the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng is handled by a dedicated team of 10, including Andrew. Some of its members, like Jacques Deysel, Joel “the Silent Plumber” Goanakgoro and Nelson “Big Boy” Mogapi, have been part of the maintenance team at the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng since the latter’s grand opening to the public back in 2005.

Other members of the team are Tsietsi “the quiet one” Moeti; the “people’s person” and annual Easter bunny Jantjie Melk; Itumeleng “Kampeon” Mogorosi; the painter and patcher who always has a smile on, Jan “Mahala” Quodelo; Lawrence “Schoolboy” Mkwetsu, who is currently studying electrical engineering part-time; room and hotel checker extraordinaire Anele “mZambaan” Zwane; and the supervisor of many talents with a genuine concern for his team and doing things properly, Dikgang “Patrick” Dire.

And lastly there is Andrew, with “four years’ service and 40 years of experience that has taught me that my job as manager is to make sure my team is equipped, able, willing and, most important of all, happy, balanced as well as content in the understanding that I will support them through thick and thin.”

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(Image: Maropeng)

Commenting on the coordination of their immensely complex tasks, Andrew has nothing but praise for the exemplary cooperation between the teammates in ensuring that everything is carried out effectively and with the utmost discretion.

“They do a great job, sometimes under immense pressure. Imagine you are expecting TV press and other media reporters at a conference consisting of local and foreign government officials, scientists and a few hundred other VIPs and dignitaries, and then suddenly the sewage becomes backed up.

“Well, it might be panic stations among other teams, but we have it sorted out before the first break in proceedings and no one but us is aware of it. Clearing a sewer line, the length of eight football fields is a huge task – doing it while VIPs are arriving without anyone knowing about it is something beyond a huge task,” says Andrew, expressing pride in his team.

“Willing, able and positive is how I would describe the team. We have a few catchphrases among us, such as ‘Remember, communication and information’. Without these our job is not possible, and the guys are well aware of this.

“Our supervisor, Dikgang Dire, is always willing to come in when there are after-hours emergencies and I have never heard him complain when I phone him. He has won the award for staff member of the month on two occasions and has been nominated numerous times. The team as a unit has won the award and we had a great day at the Hartbeespoort Cableway as our prize.”

So, the next time you visit Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves, remember to smile and wave at the friendly faces behind the protective visors wearing khaki uniforms. Take in the sights knowing that it is Andrew and his team who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that your experience is safe and memorable.

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(Image: Maropeng)