Looking back to move Africa forward

Looking back to move Africa forward

In a rousing speech on 8 May 1996, former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki proudly said “I am an African”, pausing briefly as the room erupted in cheer and President Nelson Mandela looked on with pride. He then continued, “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.”

This speech has become iconic for many reasons, it is a reminder that we should be proud of who we are and where we have come from, it is a sobering acknowledgment of the challenges we face, it is a call to action and a beacon of hope, showing us where we can be if we work together. This speech is also a reminder that the very origins of our species, and of all the remarkable characteristics that make us human were honed, developed, and shaped by these very same (but yet remarkably different) landscapes our distant ancestors once called home hundreds and thousands, even millions of years ago. We are all inextricably and deeply connected to Africa. It is an ancestral tether to all living humans, but to those who remain on the continent, it is our home- past, present and future.


Africa Day, celebrated on 25 May, commemorates the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union in 1963. It has also become a celebration of the myriads of cultures and the diversity of people and experiences that are found scattered throughout our continent today. This year, the African Union theme is: Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa.


This theme speaks to the core of our organisation, PAST was founded in 1994 and born from the need for meaningful participation of Africans in the study of the heritage of our lands and the narratives that surround it. As an organisation, we aim to preserve and promote Africa’s rich fossil heritage and to fund palaeontological research and education across the continent – making the scientific evidence of people’s shared origins relevant for modern times.


In celebration of Africa Month, we asked our grantees to answer the question:  What do you imagine the future of origin sciences in Africa looks like?


Their answers reminded us that we are not short on talent or hope.