By Sahm Venter
South Africans and international tourists are being invited to test their DNA to determine their ancestry and have the results exhibited alongside Nelson Mandela's.
The tests are being offered by the new Origins Centre museum in Johannesburg to illustrate one of its themes, that "all human beings are related genetically and can trace their roots to a common ancestor who lived in Africa."
The DNA samples will be tested by the National Health Institute and the results will be given after two weeks. One can choose whether to remain anonymous or have one's ancestry exhibited in the museum.
Workers in grubby overalls were hurriedly painting, scraping and shovelling on Tuesday morning, ahead of the official opening by President Thabo Mbeki later in the evening.
Mandela's DNA results, taken from a sample a couple of years ago, show that he is descended from the earliest inhabitants of Africa, the San people. Their mitochondrial DNA (mtiDNA) contains the earliest genetic print of all human beings, called L1. He also is descended from a group of Africans from the Great Lakes region in East Africa.
South Africa's African groups mainly originated from the Great Lakes area and moved down along the east coast to settle in South Africa.
The Origins Center is situated on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand and beginning next Tuesday will open to the public six days a week.
It is the brainchild of Mbeki who had the idea when he went walking in the Ukahlamba Drakensberg Mountains five years ago and found that he knew more about rock art than most of his guides. He wanted South Africa's impressive rock art collection and research exhibited to benefit the public at large.
The museum will also contain a significant repository of stone age tools and rock art, evidence of inhabitants of southern Africa from 2,6 million years ago.
Only later did people leave Africa to journey to the rest of the world, according to Francis Gerard, the creative director of the Origins Center. "People only got to the Americas about 18 000 years ago," he said.
A focus of the museum will be South Africa's 4 billion year old fossil record.
University of the Witwatersrand holds an archive of well over 100 000 examples of rock art, probably the world's largest collection.
The exhibits in the museum are designed to show how human beings became "fully modern" in sub-Saharan Africa ahead of their "journey out of Africa to populate the rest of the world." - Sapa-AP