What relevance is your existence to humanity?

27 November 2019 - 10:40
By Linda Kea Moreotsene

The answer to extending humanity's life span could be lying in SA, specifically Limpopo and it is a gift that South Africans dare not waste.

This is the view of professor Mongane Wally Serote, who believes the remains of the seven ancient residents from the Kingdom of Mapungubwe could be the breakthrough to humanity and scientists have, for centuries, been searching for.

In a weekend designed to mark the third anniversary of the sprawling park by the South African National Parks, the renowned poet and professor Maano Ramutsindela, both invited to give keynote lectures, challenged those present to ponder what relevance their existence is to humanity.

Instead of the imposing hills, the majestic elephants and the graceful giraffes that populate the mighty Mapungubwe Park, Serote's lecture focused on the spirits that once roamed the vast area and the imprints left for those who came after to learn from.

"As South Africans, who are in charge of this place, what is it that we are going to do, so that Mapungubwe becomes a valuable gift to the human race? We must not think small, we must not! This is a national legacy," said Serote.

He reckons the existence of the remains, which are now buried at the park, has the potential to be SA's greatest gift to the human race.

"The remains were submitted to science after their discovery in 1932 and it was discovered, for instance, that the people had lived really long lives. That wasn't the norm, as people from that era had short life spans. So, although the remains have been buried, it was done in such a way that they can be retrieved at any time, and submitted for more study," Serote said.

Against this transformative background, Serote implored those present to find out who they were and what their purpose was. Deftly using the African parable of the lizard and the chameleon, the author looked to drive home the lessons in both creatures' conduct and the lessons inherent in the lizard's sense of urgency and purpose.

The lizard's characteristics differ strikingly to the chameleon's tendency to primp and preen and see itself reflected in everything it encounters and Serote said it was the responsibility of all to pick which of these creatures to emulate.

"Do we as Africans know who we are? The question is important because if we can't answer it, there is nothing that we can know. For us to know who we are, I say it starts from us understanding our history, our culture, the value that we were given, the understanding of how the world operates and how we go about trying to understand the things we don't understand in a methodological manner," Serote said.

Attending Serote's lecture, Trinity Mboweni, a young singer and archaeology student, wondering how she can live a purpose-driven life.

"These two questions left me feeling as though they are the simplest, yet most complex questions I have ever had to think about. The more I thought about it, the more I realise how little thought I have given to who I am and what I have come here for, or have been brought here to do. I mean, I know the things that move me; the things that I am drawn to and the things that fulfil me the most. But I have, since the lecture, started wondering if these things are what I have come here to do and if the concepts of fulfilment and purpose are not mutually exclusive," Mboweni said.

Meanwhile, professor Ramutsindela's points left a bittersweet feeling, especially in times where South Africans seem to be at war with fellow Africans.

"The culture that we celebrate in this place does not stop at the border of South Africa. It straddles the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe. And this shows that people who built Mapungubwe were one people, who in the current demarcation of borders, would not have used these borders to define themselves.

"Now, we find ourselves in a situation where the borders define who we are, but luckily the Mapungubwe culture tells us this is not right. We are one people, and if we celebrate this culture, that is a message we should work on, remember and use to build on our common identity as Africans."