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TThe discovery of a previously unknown extinct hominin fossil, Homo Naledi has not only been an exciting scientific breakthrough that has reaffirmed the Cradle of Humankind as the continent’s primary destination for an authentic exploration into the origins of Homo genus, but has also cemented its status as one of South Africa’s foremost tourist attractions.
A day after the announcement the Cradle of Humankind brand manager Adrian Amod was inundated with calls inquiring about available days to visit. Enquiries came from schools countrywide and also international visitors especially in South Africa’s primary markets such as the UK, USA, Germany and Africa. To date over 40 000 eager visitors have made the journey to The Cradle (which is almost as many people as usually visit in six months).
The benefits have not only been limited to an increase in the number of visitors to the site but the area also stands to benefit from infrastructural development that has been earmarked for the area. The Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom has announced that R22 million will be allocated for the renovation of Maropeng and the visitor's Centre at the Cradle of Humankind. Speaking to national media recently the Minister said,
“It’s the development of sites like this that will distinguish us from other countries and put us on the map. We want to encourage family visits to Maropeng, the picnic site and interactive laboratory, where especially young learners can get involved in the palaeontology work done there. We want to also plan on a 500-seater amphitheatre in the area. And that's just the beginning.”
This is an encouraging development for a sector that has been taking strain to remain profitable and sustainable while local economic growth is constrained and emerging markets globally are experiencing a general slowdown. Already the Magaliesburg area has capacity to accommodate tourists in over seven thousand rooms; enjoys a network of over 113 boutique restaurants; wedding and conference venues as well as other attractions for adventure seekers. This is also an opportune time for the Maropeng local and district authorities to ensure that this infrastructure development feeds into the local economy, providing much needed jobs and alleviating poverty in surrounding communities.
On the 18th of October, thousands of visitors enjoyed a spectacular farewell concert in honour of Homo Naledi who is moving on to contribute to the story of humankind at Wits University, after weeks on exhibition to the public. Trish Hanekom, a board member of Maropeng Africa and trustee of the Cradle of Humankind, is optimistic that Homo Naledi moving on to further research is only the beginning of an upward phase in tourism in the area. Trish said,
“The next exhibition is one to look out for. It’s called Killer Beasts of the Cradle. We’ll have giant predators that might have been roaming the land while Homo Naledi was around.”
The next exhibition is set to start next weekend.