Saturday, August 15, 2009

Observations on Maropeng

Maropeng Visitor Centre - Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site

When we built Maropeng, we took a risk. The building was on a piece of land which had been donated to the state by Standard Bank. I personally needed to twist their corporate arm, to let us have a site which was going to have a view - because it seemed to me to be fairly worthless to have one which did not. We succeeded, and the site they gave us is magnificent - probably one of the best views anywhere in Gauteng.

But the risk was that, then, it seemed really far out of town, both for Johannesburg and for Pretoria. Of course, in the 10 or so years since the listing of the Cradle of Humankind as a World Heritage Site, the distance seems to have become less - because that is just what happens over the years.

On our recent visit there, these are some of the things I noticed:

1. The roads, which we spent millions upon millions on, have deteriorated very badly. There is one simple reason - heavy trucks using them. The traffic has increased on those roads very substantially.; When we started the project, most of the roads in the area were gravel - and gravel with a whole lot of ditches and holes in it. The moment the roads were tarred, trucks and heavy vehicles began to use them. We had huge fights with some of the landowners - who didn't seem to be able to make up their minds about the roads. On the one hand, they wanted them, on the other, they didn't like the consequences - viz., the trucks and heavy loaders. We argued that they were public roads - and therefore could not limit who used them.

I think we were wrong. We should have placed serious limitation on those roads - in terms of height restriction, in terms of speed restriction, and in terms of allowable weight of vehicle.

2. The other thing I noticed, is that all of the plans for beautification has not happened. This means that the area looks ordinary, rather than extraordinary. We had plans to put stone cairns up all over the place. We had plans to make the traffic circles in the area artistic sites. And two years down the track, none of this seems to have happened.

3. Maropeng itself is an amazing draw-card. We fought epic battles to get the operator to make the experience into a "wow" experience and that it now is. I have brought various guests there over the past two years, and I have seem just what kind of an impact it has on them. It is profound. Sterkfontein is also wonderful. It has a peace and a serenity about it which is quite wonderful.

4. I saw how well the place is being used - and by black people especially. Black school kids, black teenagers, black tourists. That is an amazing change which has happened over the past number of years - and it will have an amazing impact into the future - because those teenagers will bring their children there in years to come.

5. Talking of which, there is still not a great deal for children to do. I mean children - not teenagers. This is extremely short-sighted on the part of the operators.

6. I noticed that some of the Maropeng site is starting to look a bit tatty. Awnings needed fixing; outside chairs needed replacement; machines in the exhibition needed fixing. This is one of the problems with a Public Private Partnership - Government has very little control over how the private part of the relationship works or runs its business.

But again - I was deeply impressed by everything which we worked 7 years to achieve. And proud beyond words to have been part of such an amazing and historic creatio ex nihilo.

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