The ancestors of homo sapiens came from Africa – and many of them originated right here at the Cradle of Humankind.

Perhaps, even more significantly, South Africa was the home of the earliest members of our own species, homo sapiens. We have some of the oldest homo sapiens sites in the world.  Some of the world’s earliest art – dating from more than 100 000 years ago, was discovered at Blombos in the Western Cape.

At some point between 100 000 and 200 000 years ago – right here in Africa – something happened in the cerebral cortexes of our ancestors. Unlike any of the species that lived before them, they were able to imagine things that did not yet exist and to consciously change their environment accordingly. That was the moment when we left all the other species behind us and became truly human.

According to Charles Darwin the success of species is not determined by their relative strength or intelligence, but by their ability to adapt to change. It was in this area that our ancestors did really well. Not only were they able to adapt to the rapidly changing environments created by a succession of ice ages, they were progressively able to change the environments in which they lived. In effect, we humans became the only species with the ability to manage change.

Our ability to deal with change has been one of the competitive advantages of our species.  We have done really well during the past 20 000 years, precisely because we were better able to deal with rapidly changing environments than any of our competitors:

The ability to manage change is still a critical success factor for mankind.

20 years ago we South Africans were able to manage one of the greatest change processes of the 20th century. We transformed our society from the division and isolation of the past to a new era based on inclusivity and non-racial constitutional democracy.

Since then our new society has served us well. We have resumed our honoured place in the international community; we have seen our economy grow by more than 250% to US $400 billion; we have made major strides in combating poverty and in providing basic services to the vast majority of our people. We have held five free and fair elections – and we continue to enjoy the fruits of constitutional freedom.

However, we have also learned that the process of change never ends.

We continue to be faced by major national challenges that will require further fundamental changes in our society.

When I imprint my foot here today, I shall do so in the awareness that I am continuing the long march of change that we began right here at the Cradle of Humankind so many eons ago.

However, my footprint will also indicate that this is an unfinished journey on our way to a better, more just and more equal future for all our people.

Photo credit: Anthony Paton, Gauteng Tourism Authority