Stop divisive attacks over Homo Naledi - Makhura

Mpho Raborife, News24

Johannesburg - The discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of a human ancestor, should unite and not divide people, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said on Thursday.

"Africa is the beginning of humankind. Our diversity does not detract from the fact that we have a common ancestry," Makhura said at The Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng, outside Johannesburg.

Homo naledi reasserted the fact that humans had a common ancestry, "our common heritage".

The skeletons were found in an underground chamber of the Rising Star cave in October 2013, 1.5km from the Sterkfontein caves. Discoveries made there have been providing many clues on how humans evolved.

The discovery has sparked much debate since Homo naledi was unveiled on September 10.

African National Congress MP Mathole Motshekga, also the executive director of the Kara Heritage Institute, said the discovery perpetuated the theory that Africans were subhuman.

Former general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, has also come out against the discovery, saying on Twitter. "I am no grandchild of any ape, monkey or baboon - finish en klaar,"

Stand behind Homo Naledi

On Thursday, Makhura urged South Africans to stand behind Homo naledi.

"As Africans, anything that points to Africa as the cradle of humankind, we must celebrate. Those of us in arts and culture and politics should celebrate Homo naledi."

Although people's cultural and religious views on the matter could not be dismissed, Makhura said the contribution Homo naledi made to palaeontology could not be ignored.

Culture and religion were an important part of who humans were and should not be dismissed. But those who challenged science by saying they were not like baboons missed the bigger picture.

"It is a very unfortunate conception of who we are because what if baboons themselves are part of who we are? They might in fact be more civilised in the way they treat each other and in the way they treat their environment than those of us who think they are human," Makhura said.

Wits University paleoanthropologist Professor Lee Berger said during the unveiling that one of the most exciting things about the discovery was the possibility that Homo naledi deliberately disposed of their dead in the chamber.

Previously researchers had thought that ritualised behaviour was unique to homo sapiens - humans, Berger said.