South Africa’s paleontology and archeology heritage showcased in France

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30 Oct 2013

The Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, has hailed the relations South Africa has with France, which have resulted in a number of agreements since the two countries entered into cooperation in 2004.

Among the many is a memorandum of understanding between the South African National Space Agency and the French National Center for Space Studies. “We greatly value this, because the South African space programme is still in its nascent stages and its growth and expansion can only be achieved through collaboration with more mature agencies.”

The Minister was speaking in Toulouse in France on 28 October, at the opening of the Pre-history Exhibition, as part of the South African Season in France which commenced in May 2013.

The Season has seen over 1,000 artists, cultural heritage practitioners, academics, children, chefs and sportsmen from South Africa travel to France to take part in a multi-faceted collaboration between the two countries. The aim of the Season is to strengthen people-to-people contact, gain knowledge and share research between France and South Africa.

Produced by the Toulouse Museum, the exhibition showcases iconic objects collected over the last 20 years in South Africa (skeletal remains of Australopithecus sediba, necklace Blombos and stone tools, and what is likely to be a rock art specimen. These specimens are from the prestigious collections of Wits University and the Museum of Toulouse. Collectively they illustrate artistic, cultural and technological changes that have profoundly shifted the current view of the history of art, and the interpretation of rock art in particular, as well as cultural evolution, and the emergence of cultural modernity.

Minister Hanekom said South African pre-historians had been working closely with their French counterparts for many years, citing Professors David Lewis-Williams and Jean Clottes who together had made important discoveries about African and European paintings and engravings that were many thousands of years old.

“The story that comes out of Africa is our story - and the story is that we all come from Africa. We live in different places, in all corners of the world, but we all come from the same place, we share a common ancestry, and we shape our destinies together,” he said.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the tercentenary of Nicolas-Louis de la Caille. La Caille (1713-1762) was a French astronomer who spent two years at the Cape where he produced the first accurate map of the southern sky.

Earlier this year, projects such as the Macro Bio View and France-South African Human Development and Research Collaboration offered valuable insight, knowledge and research, which were shared between the countries.

The Macro Bio View project established a new partnership between the University of Limpopo (Department of Biodiversity) and the University of Lyon on the biodiversity of the Olifants River system. The project, highlighting the impact of invasive species on the functioning of this river, is of the utmost importance. The France-South African Human Development and Research Collaboration project allowed both countries to extend their knowledge and research on topics that included water and environment, biotechnology, human capital and trends, and challenges in the ICT domain.

Science and technology projects that are currently under way as part of the Season, include Plant-pathogen interactions from the perspective of the plant cell wall; and Mobility, Migration and Global Citizenship. Plant-pathogen interactions aim to gain more knowledge and research on new approaches to improve crop protection against fungal pathogens. Fungi have devastating impacts on the economy and the agricultural industry.

The Mobility, Migration and Global Citizenship aims to contribute to the production of policy-oriented research on migration and migrants’ rights. This research will assist in understanding mobility and migration trends and processes between Africa and Europe, including those between South Africa and France.

The South African Commissioner-General for Seasons, Mr Bongani Tembe, said, “The Season aims to share the energy of a new South Africa by showcasing various developments, including developments in the science and technology fields. Research shared between France and South Africa on these important matters is for the greater good of the planet. The projects also reflect the long and interesting relationships between the two countries.”

Currently the Season includes approximately 250 dance and theatre performances, 100 musical concerts, 50 films, 40 residencies, 35 workshops, 30 exhibitions, and showcasing 150 South African wines.