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    Workshop: Mapungubwe Reconsidered

    Venue: Origins Centre at Wits University

     February 04 2012

    1. On Saturday 4 February 2012 the MISTRA research project on Mapungubwe convened a workshop at the Origins Centre at Wits University.  The workshop brought together core researchers from the project as well as others interested in the topic.

      The core members of the research team who presented papers included Dr Amanda Esterhuysen (Wits Archaeology Dept.), Dr Maanda Mulaudzi (UCT Historical Studies Dept.), Dr Shadreck Chirikure (UCT Archaeology Dept), Dr Alex Schoeman (Wits Archaeology Dept.), and Dr Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi (Wits History Dept). Also in attendance were members of the extended project team including Mr Vele Neluvhalani (Oral Historian), Prof Phil Bonner (Wits History Dept), Dr Otsile Ntsoane (Indigenous Knowledge Specialist), Dr Simon Hall (UCT Archaeology Dept), Prof Innocent Pikirayi (Univ of Pretoria: Archaeology) and MISTRA board members Luli Callinicos and Jean-Marie Julienne.

      Research Project Objectives: The research project aims at examining the key dynamics of pre-colonial southern African societies using Mapungubwe as a coat-hanger. Specifically, the objectives of the project focus on: (i) deepening the understanding of pre-colonial societies and to inject that understanding into current debates about development, (ii) exploring the extent to which this material helps us identify the particular trajectories of change that have significance in the present.

      Workshop Objectives: The objectives of the workshop were to present the nine thematic focus areas of the research project with a view to:

        (i) invite critique of the outlines of the nine chapters of the research project;
       (ii) solicit input on the chapters’ philosophical approach, methodology, international benchmarks;
      (iii) draw comments on the relevance of the chapters for South Africa’s transformation and developmental agenda; and
    2. (iv) gauge the degree to which chapters are aligned to MISTRA’s mission to galvanise intellectual resources in crafting strategic ideas in pursuit of a better quality of life for all.

      Workshop Presentations:

      The chapter on Heritage and Environmental Sustainability, by Dr Amanda Esterhuysen (Wits Archaeology Dept.) investigates the changing attitudes towards the environment and heritage and how these are in turn influenced by shifting socio-economic terrains. It recognises the fluidity of heritage meanings and the challenges of managing this sector in a background of relationships of power and inequality; political context of decision-making processes; and the importance of drawing in economically-marginalised groups into decision-making processes.

      Dr Mulaudzi (UCT Historical Studies Dept.) presented on Trade and the origins and development of early states such as Mapungubwe, specifically long-distance trade to the Indian Ocean networks. The central question he is investigating is the role trade played in the emergence of new forms of stratification or ‘class’ relative to other factors and this trade’s critical factor in transforming cattle-rich chiefdoms into ‘class-based’ societies. The tentative premise of this chapter is that Mapungubwe evinced ‘class distinctions’ that were a product of international trade like the Swahili city-states or Sudanic Africa. From this, a question that emerges is: does this mean that dependency and world system theorists were right in suggesting that Africa’s peripheral status had been set even earlier than through the Atlantic Slave Trade and Imperialism?

      Dr Chirikure’s (UCT Archaeology Dept) chapter, on Metals, explores the metalworking industry of Mapungubwe to reveal that, contrary to largely discredited notions of backwardness, Mapungubwe had a sophisticated metallurgical industry based on primary and secondary working of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. It also looks at the limited range of metals that include iron, copper, gold and bronze worked at the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (MCL) which, while consumed locally, the surplus was siphoned into the international trading system based on the Indian Ocean routes. This chapter hopes to profile artefacts other than the famous golden rhino, the sceptre and other gold objects.

      Dr Alex Schoeman (Wits Archaeology Dept.) presented on the complex southern African Interactions based upon material evidence which in themselves are not static but are dependent on technologies differentially adopted and adapted in the process of interaction. This chapter alerts us to the fact that an archaeology of interaction is not simply about the material and the practicalities of labour and production, but also about the social, about ideology and about meaning(s) between, say, the hunter-gatherers and farmers in the MCL. These interactions further reveal that economic and ritual factors entwined the society into a complex network of exchanges across social, ritual and political boundaries to reveal evidence that individuals and their material culture crossed the boundaries between communities.

      In the chapter on Political Process, Structure & Success, Dr Maanda Mulaudzi (UCT Historical Studies Dept.) proposed that Mapungubwe does not offer an indication that it was established from conquest, unlike the Malian Empire where conquest is widely accepted to have been central to its formation. Given this dynamism, what are the lessons that can possibly be learned from the political processes and structure of early societies like MCL? The vast majority of people in southern Africa probably remained in ‘small-scale democracies’ while aware of the existence of the state among their neighbours. In other words, state formation does not amount to the ideal of ‘progress’ while its absence does not denote backwardness and inertia: history and developments occurred among people regardless of whether or not they were members of a state. We could probably learn more about how people reconstituted themselves into varying sizes of chiefdoms or polities and how they changed over time without living in the shadow of the state.

      Dr Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi (Univ Wits: History) on Conflicts, Cleavages & Cooperation, surveyed some of the major divisions between and within pre-colonial southern African societies, including gender and generational cleavages as well as divisions between royals and commoners – divisions which were both a source of cooperation and change.

      Dr Chirikure’s chapter Heritage in ‘Crisis and Solutions, interrogates the management of heritage and development by using the MCL as a backdrop to highlight some of the limitations in the legislative and decision-making frameworks and to the traditional approaches in the case of heritage and development. It argues that the ‘crisis’ presents an opportunity to strengthen the heritage management systems in their totality and for the people of South Africa to engage in a constructive manner over heritage and developmental imperatives, by for example, using broad-based stakeholder engagement.

      Dr Lekgoathi’s presentation on Identity Issues focused on the theoretical debates concerning the social nature of pre-colonial southern African societies – whether ethnicity existed in those societies. For him, the ‘tribal’ and ‘ethnic’ model is inadequate as an analytical category used to understand the nature of pre-colonial African social and political formations since this category was negotiable and reconfigurable even as both the colonial and apartheid logic would attempt to construct rigid boundaries through various forms of social engineering. In societies where the survival (both economic and political) of polities depended on having a large following and alliances with other groups, the rulers placed a high premium on attracting followers rather than worrying about their followers’ linguistic background and cultural practices.

      Attendant Issues for Considerations: The deliberations from the audience members invited – drawn from academia, industry, and government – raised the following matters they felt should be considered by the presenters:

      - Use ‘understandable’ language to communicate research findings since the project aims at more than specialist readers

      - Move away from localised and narrow focus areas to include comparable African examples to illuminate the thematic areas

      - Include non-institutionalised narratives from the margins, e.g., orature (the chapter on Spirituality & Religion aimed at using this methodological approach – a structured dialogue between the late Prof Victor Ralushai and Mr Vele Neluvhalani)

      - Integrate issues of ‘race’ into the discourse even if there is a revision of language used in some of the chapters e.g., ‘Creole’

      - Include a chapter on Indigenous Knowledge Systems? (still under discussion with Dr Ntsoane)

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