In the face of the continuing Cape drought being today declared a ‘national state of disaster’ by the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Zweli Mkhizeby – and what this new blow could mean for inbound tourism – a welcome light on the horizon came with the announcement of the discovery of Late Pleistocene Hominin tracks along the Cape South Coast.

The research team, led by Dr Charles Helm, discovered up to 40 hominin tracks in the form of natural casts on the ceiling and walls of a 10-metre-long cave. Helm estimated that the tracks would have been made around 90 000 years ago by what was most likely homo sapiens, when the shoreline was probably 2km out.

This could help put the Cape on the map as a heritage tourism destination, with Helm suggesting that “this discovery adds to the sparse global record of early hominin tracks, and represents the largest and best preserved archive of Late Pleistocene hominin tracks found to date”. It is a major opportunity to tell the story of the Cape’s fascinating history and rich cultural heritage, says Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro.

Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, concurs: “The latest fossil discovery once again places the spotlight on the Western Cape as a region of human cognitive development. The research conducted by Helm and other scholars will indeed contribute to our departmental objective of building a socially inclusive province and justifies the need to establish a Cultural Heritage and Tourism Route that promotes the Western Cape’s archaeological and palaeontological heritage. The Department will continue to collaborate with scholars in order to promote the discovery of new scientific knowledge about our ancestry and history.”

Considered the West Coast equivalent of the Cradle of Humankind, the fossil site will add to South Africa’s positioning as a must-see destination for heritage tourists. “This particular revelation in the Cape can allow us to position ourselves as part of this story, which is of keen interest to both South Africans and foreign travellers,” says Marais.

Globally, South Africa is positioned as a place of great heritage significance, says Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde, and “will no doubt become one of the treasures in our heritage chest”.