The residents of Taung in the North West, where the fossilised skull of a child was discovered by unsuspecting workers in a limestone quarry in Buxton village in 1924, are calling for the return of the skull.
The Taung Skull or Taung Child, which was later named Australopithecus africanus, was the first hominid fossil to be discovered on the African continent.
The Taung Skull was formally discovered and studied by Raymond Dart. The skull was taken to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for research purposes, where it is currently located. One of the residents, Lucas Raito, said the Taung Heritage Site was an area of enormous archaeological importance and the return of the fossil would boost the economy of Taung.
“This area is a fascinating place for tourists to explore and learn about the ancient history of Taung. Remember, many anthropologists and other scientists believe this to be the site of the first human being, confirming the notion that Africa is the origin of humankind.
“We are living beyond the poverty line, whereas having the area with a massive historical background. We urge the North West provincial government to put pressure on the Witwatersrand University to return the skull to its origins,” Raito said. Fellow resident Orabile Jim, who is also a local artist, shared the sentiment. Jim said even though he had mixed feelings, he still believed the skull should be returned.
“I have mixed reactions on the matter because the Taung Skull Site that was declared as the World Heritage Site has been abandoned. We have seen the provincial government trying to revamp the area but the project has been delayed. “So, currently, there is no secured place to accommodate the skull.
I believe that the Witwatersrand University continues to benefit financially through the research conducted on the skull, whereas we are left out.” He said the least the university could do was to identify a few youths and offer them annual bursaries as part of its community responsibilities.
North West Premier Bushy Maape, who identified tourism as one of the key tools to boost the economy, said: “The issue of Taung Skull has been discussed with the Witwatersrand University over a long time, and we are hoping that the matter will be resolved and finally the skull will be returned to Taung.
“Our government has initiated the process of revamping that site and I can assure you that it is in the plans of the department of tourism.
They have also planned to investigate whether they cannot assist people who want to put stalls there. So, I’m sure this year they will start doing something about it.” Meanwhile, the Greater Taung local municipality mayor Tumisang Gaoraelwe said two weeks ago they had a meeting with all stakeholders involved in the revamping of the project in the area.
“We discussed issues that are delaying the project and the project manager highlighted that community members are boycotting the project because they alleged that some of the decisions were taken without their consent.
“So, we have resolved there must be a fully-fledged steering committee on site. Some community members are building shacks in a buffer zone for opportunistic purposes.”
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