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Mbeki opens Maropeng centre

2005-12-08 08:45

Johannesburg - In Africa things are almost never what they seem and the newly opened Maropeng Visitors Centre is testimony to that, President Thabo Mbeki said on Wednesday.

Mbeki was speaking at the opening of the multi-million rand exhibition centre which forms part of the Cradle of Humankind heritage site.

The site comprises the Sterkfontein Caves, where about 35% of the world's hominid fossils have been found.

"When you approach the building, it looks like an ancient hill, a tumulus. You journey on an underground lake and you are transported back to the beginning of time," Mbeki said.

Mbeki said the centre was "our own" contribution to record for posterity the story of evolutionary human biology and geography as it unfolds.

'Memory of our human journey'

He said those who appropriated history, before South Africa claimed it back, could not countenance the possibility that human life could come from "so contrary a continent.

"This ancient place holds the memory of our human journey. And because it does we want to make this place a repository of human memory for the past, for the present and for the future."

Some of the famous fossils found at the site include the 2.3 million-year-old Mrs Ples and 4.17 million-year-old Little Foot.

Maropeng, which means "the place where we come from", is expected to receive over 500 000 visitors annually, according to the Gauteng provincial government.

It has an underground lake where visitors can take a boat ride through the primal elements of earth, air, fire and water.

The boat ride leads to an underground virtual cave with interactive exhibitions and displays of original fossils.

The centre is the product of a public-private partnership of the Gauteng Provincial Government and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Maropeng will be open to the public from December 9.