We’ve clients travelling in the northernmost part of South Africa this week as we said yesterday, in the province of Limpopo.
The story of the Limpopo border region between South African and Zimbabwe is a fascinating one, playing out over the last 800 years, and it’s all centered round a tiny golden rhinoceros.
The golden rhinoceros was recovered in 1934 from a royal grave at the site of Mapungubwe in northern South Africa close to the border of Zimbabwe. Its creation in the 13th century is a reflection of the wealth of the state of Mapungubwe, southern Africa’s earliest known kingdom.
Why is this little rhinoceros so important? Because it proved to all those that didn’t want it to be true that black Africans had a thriving economic and artistic culture way before the arrival of white settlers in the 1600s.
Long distance trade in the region was previously thought to have been based solely on ivory and animal skins in return for glass beads. So this tiny golden rhinoceros proved without doubt that trade and artistry was at a far more sophisticated level than white civilisations at the time in Europe.
The power of the golden rhinoceros, and other finds from Mapungubwe, were suppressed by the ruling elite of the 1930s with the white South African government acknowledged their potency by marginalising them (or removing them) within official South African narratives.
By contrast, this sculpture demonstrated that black South Africans had occupied the region for a least 1,000 years before the arrival of Europeans.
In 2002 the ANC created the Order of Mapungubwe, the highest honour in South Africa, of which there are four classes: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Nelson Mandela was the first to receive the highest of these awards, platinum. At the centre of the award is a representation of the gold rhinoceros.