On 8 April 1933, a remarkable discovery was made in the then Transvaal region of South Africa: a grave of unknown origin, filled with gold-work, was found on the summit of a natural rock stronghold in a wild region. The site was Mapungubwe Hill, Place of the Jackal.
Mapungubwe, which served as the capital of the ancient Mapungubwe Kingdom, situated on the international borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Since the site was discovered, the same story of Mapungubwe has been told. It's a story of a flourishing Iron Age metropolis on the Limpopo ruled by an African king almost a thousand years ago.
The Kingdom comprised a sophisticated state system, with highly developed agriculture, mining and metallurgy industries; and traded with countries as far afield as China. According to the Archaeology Department at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mapungubwe represented 'the most complex society in Southern Africa at the time'.
In July 2003, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape became South Africa's fifth World Heritage site and was officially announced as Mapungubwe National Park in May 2004. All cultural items that blossomed from the complex, highly developed state and culture found within Mapungubwe; are part of a heritage collection and the remains of this ancient society can be viewed at the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria.
Now this treasured World Heritage Site is under severe threat. An Australian company, Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL) has been given the go-ahead to begin construction of a mine less than 6km from the borders of the Mapungubwe National Park; and adjacent to the World Heritage Site. This will compromise the environmental integrity of the area as it relates to the natural habitat, ecosystems, cultural heritage and related aspects of the environment.
Several leading non-governmental organisations including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA), the Mapungubwe Action Group (MAG), the Wilderness Foundation South Africa (the WFSA), the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (the WWF) and BirdLife South Africa (BLSA), have lodged and appeal against CoAL to mine.
However they cannot stand alone for long. The mining at Mapungubwe is just the start with many more mining projects to follow. Anglo Coal has already bought large tracts of land in the area and intend to prove in court that mining rights supersede environmental legislation. The predatory behavior of the economic elite has never been so nakedly on display.