For years, South Africa’s apartheid authorities ignored the importance of a “golden rhino” figurine that gives simple proof of a classy society present earlier than white males arrived.
But for the reason that finish of racist rule in 1994, the gorgeous object — simply 15 centimetres (six inches) lengthy and greater than 700 years outdated — has turn into a defining image of precolonial civilisation in South Africa.
Described as southern Africa’s equal of Tutankhamun’s masks, the golden foil rhino may very well be displayed abroad for the primary time within the British Museum at an exhibition of South African artwork late subsequent yr.
With greater than six million guests passing by means of the London museum’s doorways yearly, it might make a dramatic world debut for the rhino, which is at present in a little-known gallery on the University of Pretoria.
The query is whether or not or not the South African authorities will log out on the mortgage.
“I think because South Africa has this colonial legacy, people are concerned about heritage objects leaving the country,” mentioned Sian Tiley-Nel, supervisor of the University of Pretoria museums.
“But these are just temporary showcases, they will come back,” she informed AFP.
After centuries of political, business and navy exploitation, historical past in Africa — and who will get to inform it — is a hotly contested topic.
European museums, with their huge collections of colonial artefacts starting from Benin bronzes to Ugandan headdresses fabricated from human hair, have a controversial monitor report on the continent.
In August, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe lashed out at Britain’s Natural History Museum for failing to show over the skulls of African freedom fighters.
“Surely, keeping decapitated heads as war trophies, in this day and age, in a national history museum, must rank among the highest forms of racist moral decadence, sadism and human insensitivity,” Mugabe mentioned.
To date, the South African authorities has declined to say whether or not the golden rhino, will function as a star exhibit on the London present.
“This matter is still under negotiation and has not been finalised as yet,” South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture informed AFP.
– Left in limbo –
In 1932, a bunch of white males attempting to find treasure found the rhino in Mapungubwe hill, a rocky outcrop within the nation’s northern Limpopo province, the place baobab timber tower over herds of elephant.
They had stumbled throughout the stays of a graveyard for the elites of a misplaced kingdom that was a buying and selling hub in 1220, exchanging ivory and gold for glass beads and fabric with Egypt, India and China.
A former pupil on the University of Pretoria turned over among the cache to the college.
Despite its apparent significance, the golden rhino was ignored by the colonial — and, later, apartheid — governments, whose regimes had been premised on the assumption that Africans had been primitive.
The rhino and different gold artefacts, together with a leopard figurine and necklaces, challenged the colonial model of historical past that South African civilisation began when Dutch colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck landed in 1652.
“Mapungubwe has come to show that South Africa has a very rich history,” mentioned Tiley-Nel, talking within the dimly lit gallery the place the golden rhino is on show.
“The southern part of Africa was not an empty myth land.”
Since Nelson Mandela was elected the nation’s first democratic president in 1994, Mapungubwe has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Order of Mapungubwe is South Africa’s highest honour (Mandela was the primary recipient in 2002).
However, controversy surrounds the figurine, with a long-running custody battle in South Africa highlighting the nation’s wrestle to recast its historical past greater than 20 years after the autumn of apartheid.
A particular centre was constructed at Mapungubwe to accommodate the rhino, which weighs simply 42.8 grammes (1.5 ounces), but it surely doesn’t meet the skilled museum necessities wanted to guard the figurine.
As a end result, custody of the rhino has remained with the University of Pretoria — a location that angers many.
“We can’t just keep on relying on the old institutions which acquired these artefacts under dubious means,” mentioned Ciraj Rassool, historical past professor on the University of the Western Cape.
“It’s a tragedy there was a failure to create a suitable museum,” he mentioned. “The golden rhino is left in limbo.”
Still, Rassool hopes that earlier than the rhino heads dwelling to Mapungubwe, it first goes on tour to London to be proven to the world.
“It is important that these aspects of South African culture be known about in as many countries as possible,” he mentioned.