Limpopo / 24 September 2017, 12:00pm / Shingai Darangwa
It’s sunset at Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site and I’m standing on one of the park’s raised viewing decks. Below, and in front of me, is the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, which also marks the boundaries between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
All three countries are within sight, and all that separates them is a shallow body of water. From this spectacular view I spot some wildlife, including zebra, giraffe and impala. It’s a sight to behold.
Along with other media and SANParks representatives, I’m at SANParks’ Cultural and Spiritual Weekend celebrating South Africa’s living heritage and indigenous knowledge systems.
There’s still a bit of uncertainty about what the name Mapungubwe actually means, and you’ll find several different, albeit seemingly plausible, explanations of its origins.
Derived from either Venda or Shona, the largely accepted explanation is that it refers to the Hill of the Jackal.
True to form, during my stay there, I caught a glimpse of a few jackals wandering about. Regardless of which explanation you subscribe to, one fact is indisputable: Mapungubwe was one of the continent’s foremost dynasties.
Joined by distinguished academics from universities across southern Africa, we visit the interpretive centre, the day visitors’ centre and the museum.
Our tour of the museum is one of the most fascinating experiences of the weekend. After instructing us not to take pictures inside to avoid photos being leaked and potentially giving intruders some guidance on how to break in, our guides talked us through the early beginnings of the Mapungubwe Heritage Site and how it came to be discovered in 1932.
Inside the museum there are several illustrations denoting historical facts about this location. There are also several preserved artefacts from the Mapungubwe dynasty, including figurines, bones, gold remnants, stones, shells, beads, fragments of bowls, copper and, of course, the legendary golden rhinoceros of Mapungubwe.
After lunch on our second day, we are taken to Mapungubwe Hill. A sacred ritual is undertaken by some of the local “elders”. As per tradition, we men are asked to take off our hats during the ritual.
At the original entrance to the Mapungubwe Hill our guide gives us the background story on the customs, games and traditions that were undertaken by the inhabitants of Mapungubwe. He also informs us that this is the site where the golden rhinoceros was found.
It is believed, based on the findings of archaeologists, that Mapungubwe royalty were buried on this hill in the traditional Bantu burial position, facing west. It is also believed to have been the first class-based social system in southern Africa, with a clear distinction between its leaders and regular citizens.
There are several stunning stone structures in and around Mapungubwe. Many of them were used by its early inhabitants to build stone walls to demarcate certain areas. Others have weathered beautifully over time and look like expertly chiselled stone structures. From experience, I can confirm that they make for some great Instagram snaps.
Mapungubwe National Park is home to several of the world’s most threatened large mammals, including the black rhino, wild dog, cheetah, brown hyena and elephant. It is also home to some other beautiful mammal species such as eland, kudu, blue wildebeest, bushbuck, red hartebeest, gemsbok, giraffe and bush pig. I catch a glimpse of a few of these during my visit.
There are few more appropriately relaxing and tranquil destinations in southern Africa than Mapungubwe. The breeze is cool, the views are stunning and there’s plenty to see.
You can take walks around the park, swim in the pool area and catch a bite at one of the restaurants. It is a quiet, serene surrounding where you can allow your mind to be at ease.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Mapungubwe is a historical marvel that not only carries cultural significance but also presents a beautifully scenic travel destination.