The cradle of African civilisation

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Johannes Masalesa, a tour guide, points in the direction of the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers where Zimbabwe, Botswana and SA meet. He was born and raised in the Mapungubwe National Park and takes willing visitors on a long journey of self-discovery around the park as he narrates its rich history. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Deadlines, rush hour traffic and the noise of the city are quickly forgotten when one immerses oneself in the flora, fauna and rich cultural heritage of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site in Limpopo.

Located about 600km from Pretoria, the drive is long but worth it.

As you pass through the gates, a feeling of tranquillity overcomes you, growing as you take to dirt roads of the 28 000ha park which offers something for everyone.

One of the best ways to enjoy all the park has to offer is to take a tour with one of the guides.

Johannes Masalesa, one of the guides who was born and raised in the park, will take you on a journey of self-discovery as he relates the area’s history.

His passion for his job and the people who lived there become clear as he paints a picture of a very developed African civilisation which traded extensively.

Located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, Mapungubwe is an important archeological site bearing evidence that the ancestors of the Shona and Venda people lived there between 900 and 1300AD.

The discovery of gold, iron artefacts, pottery, clay figurines and glass beads demonstrates the relatively high level of technological sophistication they achieved.

Mapungubwe Hill also features rock art created by earlier residents, the Khoikhoi and the San people from as far back as four millennia ago.

Masalesa attributes his rich knowledge of the area to his uncle and aunt who were also born in the park in 1910.

“They would always narrate tales to me and that is how I learned about the history of this place,” he said.

A focal point in the park is the hill. Masalesa said the hill was where the royal family stayed while the commoners lived in the valley.

He can tell where some of the huts were located and also tell visitors about some of the indigenous games they played including Muruba. The natural beauty of the park can’t be questioned.

Sandstone formations, mopane woodlands and baobab trees are what set this park, with its rich variety of animal life, apart.

Animal species in the park include elephant, giraffe, white rhino, eland, gemsbok and a variety of antelopes.

The park also has predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas.

An attraction for birding enthusiasts is the 400 bird species that the park boasts.

One of the most visited places in the park is the confluence where Zimbabwe, Botswana and SA meet.

From the confluence, you can see various animal species a long distance away, moving freely between the three countries.

The scene gets even more beautiful with the sunset in the background.

The sun hides behind the mountains and all you see is a bright red light enveloping the skyline.

There is also the Mapungubwe Interpretive Centre which houses the traditions and rich culture of the people who occupied the land.

The vital information is housed inside an award-winning structure built by local people using materials found in the park.

The centre has been divided into five sections and each one tells a story.

The first section tells the story of the entire region, which includes parts of Zimbabwe and Botswana.

There is also a 15-minute video showing what the park has to offer.

Another room houses artefacts from the early Iron Age and paints a picture of a thriving community that traded with people from as far away as China.

However, the pride of the park is the golden rhino, which was discovered in a grave in 1932, one of several artefacts created by ancient goldsmiths who once lived in Mapungubwe.

And when it’s time to leave, know you will be leaving the park refreshed in body, mind and spirit. - Pretoria News

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