Every now and then, something happens that makes us sit-up and take notice. Yes, the current drought and worsening economic climate are certainly good examples of this, but now-and-again, something truly mind-blowing crosses our paths and makes us wonder at the sheer scale of inpetitude that surrounds us.
I faced such a situation this past weekend when on a visit to the little town of Vredefort in the North-West Province, I decided to visit the site of the famous Vredefort Dome - the world's oldest and largest verifiable meteorite crater. The site was registered as South Africa's seventh World Heritage Site in recognition of this event over 2000 million years ago, at a time when there were no people or even animals of plants like we see today. The site is of such signifficance because it created 'ripples' in the earth's crust extending over three hundred kilometers from the impact site - today reflected in mountain ranges as far North as the Magaliesburg. It stands in stark contrast with the surrounding landscape which is generally flat and featureless agricultural land, and represents one of the defining moments of our continent - if not the world.
What stunned me was the fact that in 2011, a state-of-the-art interpretation centre complete with lecture halls, exhibitions places, student accommodation and other visitor facilities was constructed as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme by the Department of Tourism, and that today, it stands closed and unused - no, never used. One arrives at the gates of this facility to find it closed and overgrown with weeds and grass. It has never been used and it represents a lost opportunity for tourism and a monument to absolute ineptitude on the part of the Department and its Minister.
Vredefort could be the regions' version of Maropeng - and it should because it's very existence pre-dates and creates the environment for everything that took place at Maropeng so many centuries later. Yet here it stands, a lonely and wasted monument to the total lack of vision by our leaders. As an industry, Tourism should collectively bear the responsibility for this wasted vision, and do something about getting the facility operational and attracting visitors. Vredefort is a short (120km) hop from Johannesburg and a mere 20 kilometers from Parys - one of the most popular weekend destinations from Gauteng, and yet so few know - or even care about what happened here so many millenia ago.
The impact of that meteorite so many years ago is what can be termed an 'extermination event', but the lack of action by our Department, Minister and tourism sector in general, is the really cataclysmic event of our time. If we don't protect, celebrate and share the heritage of our lives, what hope is there for the future?