About 6 years ago, a close friend of mine, Sidney Miller was contracted by SANParks to uncover artifacts at the Thulamela dig near Pafuri, now apparently open as a guided tour site. He invited my wife, Jenny and I to stay at the Pafuri cottage (by that spreading Witgatboom) with him for a long weekend and to visit the excavations with him, as he knew that I have always had a huge interest in old bones, stone-age tools and ethnic history. He later went on to Mojaje (the home of the Rain Queen) and to Mapungubwe where he was largely responsible for the uncovering of many gold and glass items, including the famous gold rhino that put the site firmly on the SA archeological map.
The Thulamela site was accessible from the Nyala road up a shallow winding ravine and comprised a slightly angled flat topped hill with huge baobabs at the base of the partly rebuilt stone ramparts that bordered the ancient settlement. The site was peopled by the scattered Greater Zimbabwe folk whose settlements and kraals were connected to one another by well-worn trading routes to Mapungubwe, today's Zimbabwe Ruins and the East via Mocambique centuries ago, and testimony to their presence is proven by his recovery of thousands of items of beadwork, gold jewellery, ironmongery, bones, pots and stone tools of the day from many excavations and middens (rubbish and ash heaps) around the site.
Thje restoration of the perimeter walls was a mammoth task, and included the re-erection of miniature stone dolmens that had stood up from the centre top of various aspects of the walls.
The Royal "chambers" were situated at the highest part of the excavation, proudly announced by the presence of a big tree that had subsequently grown next to one wall of the King's hut, and to which all supplicants were only permitted to approach with pre-ordained permission and gifts, and even then, flat on their bellies with their foreheads scraping a furrow in the dirt. Woe betide any approachee who was not quite flat enough - there is evidence that people were thrown from the high ramparts for disobeying this rule of respect, and no doubt, others.
The King's wives were at the next level down, followed by the King's children and minders. Then came the mighty warriors and their families whose job it was to protect the King, and finally the old, the infirm, ordinary people, visitors, traders and other hangers-on.
On our arrival there, the KNP guard who accompanied us, duly armed with a rifle of massive proportions, gave us strict (but needless) instructions to take no artifact, rock or any other item from the site. It pained me when we left, that while taking his car keys from his pocket, out fell an artifact that he had picked up and hidden away. We escorted him back up the hill and made him place it back where he had found it. Sidney was furious, as his job was threatened by this misbehaviour at a time when continued funding for his Project was at an all time low.
I will never forget Thulamela in it's partly excavated state, with its aura and ghosts of those fascinating and ancient peoples whose spirit now lives on for a few more thousand years in the ruins so lovingly restored by Sidney and his team. Thank you Sidney, for your obvious love of the ancient rites and habits and for recreating this wonderful legacy for the pride and joy of all South Africans.
With great respect, we salute you.
Mike and Jenny.