Mathole Motshekga: Homo Naledi, human ancestry link offensive – should be rejected

Founder of the Kara Institute, Mathole Motshekga, says Lee Berger and other paleoanthropologists who linked the recently discovered fossils to human ancestry are wrong because they failed to consider indigenous knowledge in their conclusions. He referred to the fossils of Homo Naledi as being those of baboons or monkeys, and says the science behind the conclusion of being connected to human beings as speculative, without basis. Motshekga says South Africans should not celebrate as they are meant to insult, particularly Africans.

Doctor Mathole Motshekga thanks very much for agreeing to talk to us.

Thank you, Tim.

This is supposed to be one of those proud moments for South Africa and recently with the discovery of the fossils in Maropeng. There was a lot of excitement in the country and around the globe that, once again the ancestors or part of the human family were discovered there, Homo Naledi that I’m talking about. The whole world got excited with South Africa on these new discoveries but you are not buying the story that those are relatives of humanity, as we know it today. Why is that? Why are you not excited about the findings?

Not only me, meeting with palaeontologists in America and elsewhere in the world are not impressed either, because the findings by Neil Becker and his colleagues are tainting and speculating. They are also do not take into account what Africa itself, in its own oral and written history is saying about the human origins. What is happening is that Neil Becker and his colleagues are informed by the Darwinist theory, which is a materialist theory, and African people hold a spiritual worldview and they explained the origins of humanity, both from a spiritual and material standpoint. So we can be excited about the discovery of the oldest bones of baboons or apes, showing that some creatures were created a long time ago, millions of years ago but we can’t say, at this stage that there is a relationship between those bones and our ancestors. Unless if we find the bones of Adam and Eve and see how Adam and Eve progressed from baboons into human beings – maybe that will bring us closer to what Neil Becker wants to achieve. At the moment, the excitement is futile.

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There are many leaders in the country, including the Deputy President, for instance. He went to receive the fossils and to join in the celebrations and he called on all South Africans to celebrate these findings, including the suggestion that these are ancestors or somewhat related to the ancestors of human beings.

As a Premier of South Africa I was also called to Maropeng to see this fossil but you must understand that as politicians we don’t make research, so we can’t draw conclusions on our own. We can only embrace conclusions drawn by specialists. Now, I am not talking as a politician. I’m speaking as a researcher and I’m entitled to my opinions, as a researcher. I’m saying the discoveries and the meanings attributed to them are actually, speculating and tentative, and it will be dangerous to send a message, which says we are related to baboons because many South Africans are still undergoing a healing process because those who wanted to enslave us, colonise us, and our land and natural resources. They said that we were descendants of baboons, who were sub-human and, therefore we were not entitled to rule ourselves and to have control over our resources. This is a backdoor attempt to remind us that we are sub-human and, therefore not worthy of anything.

You sound like you find the whole discovery of the fossils and the connection or link that’s being made to human beings to be offensive. Why is that, Doctor Motshekga?

It is offensive because we are still suffering from the wounds of being called baboons/apes. Even today, during road rages we are still called baboons, so it is offensive. It is not bad to conduct research and make findings but it is offensive that the findings made are used to say that we are the descendants of baboons because we are not.

But the researchers did not suggest that these are the ancestors of South Africans or, necessarily, ancestors of Africans, but they say they are ancestors of all humanity, which would include the Indians, the Chinese, Europeans – all human beings and, of course they date back millions of years ago, which will be thousands upon thousands of generations ago.

No, that cannot be true. It’s a disguise because there is no research, which says that there was a migration of the Asians and the Europeans from Gauteng into Asia and Europe. The record, that information that we had, is that humanity originated in the area of the Great Lake, and some migrated to Asia and some to Europe, and that some remained in Africa, and came to be known as African. This is documented in an indigenous and the oldest book on the Continent, called ‘The Hermetical’, which not only deals with the evolution of humanity but the evolution of the entire universe. Now, if you talk about a human being progressing from a baboon, without telling us where the baboon comes from, where do humans come from? It means they are telling us a half story, so you cannot use a half story to define ourselves, and who we are.

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You explain Homo Naledi as baboon or monkey. Why is that? Nobody suggested that they were baboons but you feel very strongly, as you’ve already indicated, and now you are referring to Homo Naledi as baboon or monkey.

I don’t know how else to define it, except to say that it is a baboon or a monkey because the palaeontologists have always said that these are ape ancestors, so I am using their language.

What are we to do because many South Africans now, recently bought into the whole story that these are distant relatives of ancestors of human beings and this was hailed as an important discovery, putting the country on the map, and therefore we should celebrate this as our heritage? What should we do with it now?

No, this is what they were told. They had no truth to evaluate this, so they depend on those palaeontologists. The truth of the matter is that the African story, based on African oral traditions and written records, has to be told. Now, we are hearing one story, based on the western materialist worldview and the African spiritual worldview, which tells a different story, is not taken into account. This is even Heritage Month, when we have to tell our children who we are, and where we come from. In other words we, as African people, must define ourselves. Now, we must allow some speculative and tentative conclusions to define ourselves, so we are denied the right of self-determination both spiritually, moral, and cultural self-determination. This is the month for Africa and African culture.

Our government has signed the charter on African cultural renaissance, so Africa has to be reborn, and indigenous Africans themselves have to drive the rebirth of the Continent and not skeletons of some animal.

What is the correct approach then, to determining human ancestry?

The correct approach is that the baboon or ape skeletons have been found and they are tentative or speculative conclusions drawn. That those speculations should not be used to define who Africans are, and where they come from, and if they want to say that this relates to the whole of humanity. Then why don’t we go to Asia, we go to Europe and get the skeletons there, and compare with the skeletons from Africa? That will be a legitimate basis to draw general conclusions but currently, we are given half stories and that half story is derogative of African people. I personally cannot accept it.

Should we reject these findings and their suggestion that has been made that these are cousins of human ancestors?

You can’t reject that the bones or the fossils were found because they are there. There is evidence that they were found but I’m saying there’s no basis to say those are the fossils of our human ancestors. Our human ancestors have nothing to do with that. There is no basis for such a conclusion, so maybe the researchers must go back to the drawing board, but also take into account the African knowledge systems, in this matter.

Do you find the link between the fossils and human beings offensive?

It is offensive because it was used to justify our sub-humanity and our enslavement, our colonisation and our oppression.

Doctor Mathole Motshekga – thanks very much for talking to us.

No, thank you Tim.