South Africa's new human ancestor sparks racial row

September 17, 2015 by Béatrice Debut
The skeleton of Homo Naledi, a newly discovered human ancestor displayed during the unveiling of the discovery in Maropeng on Se
The skeleton of Homo Naledi, a newly discovered human ancestor displayed during the unveiling of the discovery in Maropeng on September 10, 2015

Some prominent South Africans have dismissed the discovery of a new human ancestor as a racist theory designed to cast Africans as "subhuman", an opinion that resonates in a country deeply bruised by apartheid.

"No one will dig old monkey bones to back up a theory that I was once a baboon. Sorry," said Zwelinzima Vavi, former general secretary of the powerful trade union group Cosatu, a faithful ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

"I am no grandchild of any ape, monkey or baboon—finish en klaar (Afrikaans for "that's it")," he said on his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 300,000 people.

His comments were backed by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which was historically involved in the fight against apartheid.

Vavi recalled that when South Africa was under apartheid rule he was a target of racist remarks: "I been also called a baboon all my life so did my father and his fathers."

Apartheid ended in 1994 after Nelson Mandela was elected as the country's first black president in a democratic South Africa.

Vavi's comments came after last week's discovery of Homo naledi, described by scientists as a new distant ancestor of humans.

The discovery of the ancient relative generated a huge amount of international interest.

But the South African backlash has perplexed people around the world at a time when Darwin's theory of evolution is widely accepted as fact.

It "breathes new life into paranoia," said prominent British biologist Richard Dawkins on his Twitter account this week. "Whole point is we're all African apes."

Maps and photo of Homo naledi, whose fossilised bones were discovered in South Africa

Lee Berger, an American working at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand and overseeing the Homo naledi dig, tried to keep his distance from the charged debate, though he did specifically clarify that man doesn't descend from baboons.

"For our scientists the search for human origins is one that celebrates all of humankind's common origins on the continent of Africa," he told AFP.

"The science is not asking questions of religion nor challenging anyone's belief systems, it is simply exploring the fossil evidence for the origins of our species."

The body of Homo naledi resembles that of a modern man, but researchers say its orange-sized brain places it closer to Australopithecus, a group of extinct hominids that walked on two legs and lived around 2 million years ago.

Some 1,550 fossils were unearthed in the "Rising Star", a cave located in the "Cradle of Humankind", a site 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg that has proven over the years to be a rich source for palaeontologists.

The bones haven't been dated, but researchers claim they will reveal more about the transition between the primitive Australopithecus and the Homo genus, the family tree of our direct ancestor.

- 'Africans not respected'-

The discovery of the new ancestor supports the West's "story that we are subhumans," said ANC member of parliament and former chief whip Mathole Motshekga.

A reconstruction of a Homo naledi face by paleoartist John Gurche at his studio in Trumansburg

"That is why today no African is respected anywhere in the world because of this type of theory," he said in an interview with television network ENCA.

The finding "seems to be calculated to affirm what apartheid and colonialists did to say that we are subhumans who develop from the animal kingdom and therefore gave us the status of subhuman beings to justify slavery, colonialism, oppression and exploitation."

The South African Council of Churches (SACC), added fuel to the controversy.

"To my brother Vavi, I would say that he is spot on," SACC president Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa said in response to the former Cosatu leader's comments.

The skeleton of Homo naledi pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwa
The skeleton of Homo naledi pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, on September 13, 2014

"It's an insult to say that we come from baboons. We must continue to engage," he said.

Scientists should continue to provide evidence but also "listen to what God is saying to us and not make a jump to quick, foolish conclusions."

The official government reaction to the Homo naledi find was, however, positive, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa saying "our common umbilical cord is buried" in Africa.

Homo naledi underlines that "we are bound by a common ancestor," he declared.

Explore further: Study: Bones in South African cave reveal new human relative

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Egleton
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 17, 2015
Oh my goodness gracious me.! And so we pussyfoot around ignorance in order to be politically correct.
The aBantu are not indigenous to South Africa. They were iron age pastoralist Nigerian colonials. Vasgo de Gama would have seen a very different South Africa. If anyone has any cause for complaint it might be the Koi San or the Hottentots, who are indigenous to sub Saharan Africa.
Ultron
4.7 / 5 (12) Sep 17, 2015
No, he is not a baboon, he is religious dim wit.
bicylist
4.2 / 5 (10) Sep 17, 2015
I think there is a lack of respect for citizens of some African countries because their dysfunctional governments. When I first visited Africa,a local told me that a big problem was corruption. Why is this so widely tolerated? If you look at rankings around the world, corruption is very closely linked to a country's level of poverty; i.e. the most corrupt countries have the most poverty.
Whydening Gyre
4.6 / 5 (10) Sep 17, 2015
I think there is a lack of respect for citizens of some African countries because their dysfunctional governments. When I first visited Africa,a local told me that a big problem was corruption. Why is this so widely tolerated? If you look at rankings around the world, corruption is very closely linked to a country's level of poverty; i.e. the most corrupt countries have the most poverty.

Then one should closely examine the widening income disparity in the US...
(as well as around the world)
That said, it should be noted that clever individuals will attempt to bamboozle the less educated with religious nonsense instead of categorized history...
The better able to capitalize/monetize on the disagreement...
Joker23
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2015
I don't quite understand the problem. We're apparently ALL evolved from our closest relative the monkey or some form thereof as proven by DNA testing. Actually, we're really evolved from fish so this sensitivity as to who our ancestors were is a non-issue. At any point in this evolution, the ''soul'' we, as Christians have, and our empathy and humanity could have been infused into us at any point. Adam and Eve could have been infused with this soul and our humanity at any point and, who really cares what form this was when it is shown that everyone has essentially the same DNA and we all have chromosomes that originated in Africa. Man is man, Black, White Yellow, Brown, Red ................and any mixture thereof..
bluehigh
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 17, 2015
Truth? You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns….
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (8) Sep 17, 2015
Nobody mention Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in non-Africans...
Mordechai Mineakoitzen
3.2 / 5 (9) Sep 17, 2015
I agree with the other commenter, the main reasons some African countries do not achieve ideal respect is because of governmental corruption. As to the comments made about baboons, etc, that also sounds like the kind of noise people make in Africa only after they have been converted by evangelical American zealots. Now I'm sure there is a component, a sensitivity from insults over the decades, but this smacks of the same comments you hear in America, this denial that evolution can in any way be real. And as long as ancient books continue to be the basis for modern belief systems without being questioned (why aren't new books given as much weight?), the progress of the human race will be held back like a horse in a gate, and injustice will continue to be built upon a projection of a punitive and fearful angry God.
ThomasQuinn
3.9 / 5 (14) Sep 17, 2015
So 'racism' is being used as a thinly-veiled excuse for religious idiocy? Especially in South Africa, where racism is still a very significant problem, that is a stupid move to make: this plays right into racists' cards - or would, if they weren't, for the most part, religious nuts as well.

The church is abusing the fact that it accidentally found itself on the right side of history in the struggle against apartheid to push its science-hating doctrines. Just look at all the other stupidity that Christian churches are spreading in Africa: the doctrines you just can't get away with in Europe anymore are exported there: AIDS comes from being sinful and can be made to go away by prayer, there are witches everywhere, gays are servants of Satan sent to corrupt the believers, etc.

Down with the church, long live science!
Gimp
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 17, 2015
This is a wonderful quote from the end of the story and I think speaks volumes.

"That is why today no African is respected anywhere in the world because of this type of theory,"

One must earn respect, not demand it. Gain respect and the stereotypes will melt away.
Jeweller
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 17, 2015
This is what a lack of education does for people. It's very sad.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.9 / 5 (11) Sep 17, 2015
Sad, an opportunity to be proud and they blow it away.

@Joker: ""the ''soul'' we, as Christians have, and our empathy and humanity could have been infused into us at any point."

Religious have no more "soul" than non-religious, i.e. exactly none, by the observed facts of biology. What we do have are minds, empathy (something all apes share) and humanity (an old and shared trait too), all the result of evolution and not by religious magic of course.

And do I really have to point out that these types of facts as described here rejected the religious claim of a single human breeder pair already 2011? Abrahamism is not only known to be myth, it is known to be 100 % wrong about the world. The human population was never smaller than 10 000 individuals in Africa alone. And if Berger is correct with his "braided stream" the sum of Homo populations that bred into the hybrid species that is us were much larger.
someone11235813
5 / 5 (4) Sep 18, 2015
Slavery predates Darwinism by thousands of years.
Osiris1
1.4 / 5 (10) Sep 18, 2015
Our true heritage is from among the stars. Some people came here around 13-15 thousand years ago and set up a laboratory, probably in the middle of what is now called the Persian Gulf. Only it was not under water then. It was toward the end of the last interglaciation just starting to warm up, and the sea was 350 ft or so lower due to so much water locked up in glaciers. The Book of Genesis put the Garden of Eden at the confluence of four rivers, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nishon, the Pishon. Those last two, dry now, were found by satellite photos and their under water tracks of their associated river valleys. It was there that we were genetically modified and hybridized with the DNA of our stellar neighbors whoever they are. The outside DNA remade our brains to have containers for souls, enabled our speech, and increased our intelligence. Bear in mind that man before this had very few intellectual accomplishments; after this founded cities, farms, used metal tools, etc.
Osiris1
1.4 / 5 (10) Sep 18, 2015
So it matters not what our Earthbound ancestry was, because our interstellar ancestry gave us soul containers and intelligence. This emphasizes the cellular and distributed nature of God. After death of any one individual, that energy field that is/was his soul leaves the body to its own interdimensional realm, but returns to another body newly born. Such is the basis of why prayer actually works, because God exists universally the collection of all souls of all sentient life in the universe; and acts locally to answer the prayers of the faithful.. Evidence of this is in the Bible: "I will write what is right on their hearts!"...existence of the transdimensional energy field of the soul inside the brains of all sentients. Our alien visitors who were interviewed by our governments said this too and also believe this. It is the Creat Commission of all people to take up this task when able to star travel, find proto-sentients, bioengineer them, and give them souls.
Osiris1
1.8 / 5 (10) Sep 18, 2015
It is the duty of Man, our species this time no matter what his trivial differences like skin color, or height, or size, or national origin inasmuch as we are ALL earthlings, to seek the way to go out among the stars. To go boldly where none of us has ever been. To find new life and new people into which to spread the universal souls of God. Somehow if we are deserving we will be shown the way. It might even be written in code in 'unused' parts of our own DNA in a language that was never used on Earth but the keys to whose words, code, and syntax will be discoverable to us. What better way for our bio-engineers to pass messages durable down through millennia than distributed to all of us in our DNA.
baudrunner
5 / 5 (7) Sep 18, 2015
We are all black and white and everything else. If you counted all the individuals who contributed to your DNA over the last thousand years - your parents, grandparents, etc. all the way down the line, you will wind up with a number that is larger than the number of all the people alive in the world a thousand years ago. My own maternal grandmother's grandfather was black, and I have very blue eyes and fair hair.

Any discussion of ancestry that includes racism is just plain ignorance.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (10) Sep 18, 2015
All the support for "evolution", yet, again, there is not a single shred of absoolute, independent, incontrovertible evidence that "fossils" are real and not resin casts. A group of individuals with lab coats claims they are real and so many gullible accept it on that alone. Similarly without proof, Torbjorn_Larsson_OM likewise insists humans have no soul. What is Torbjorn_Larsson_OM's proof? Provide it and end all controversy. And, likewise, Richard Dawkins' claim that refusal to accept this "discovery" is creating paranoia. As well, his depraved assertion that lack of proof of a statement is automatic necessary disproof of the statement.
Vietvet
5 / 5 (8) Sep 18, 2015
All the support for "evolution", yet, again, there is not a single shred of absoolute, independent, incontrovertible evidence that "fossils" are real and not resin casts.

@julianp

Thousands of people have been involved fossil discoveries, your dumber than the rocks the fossils were embedded in.
julianpenrod
1.5 / 5 (8) Sep 19, 2015
Again, a demonstration of wholesale gullibility and orchestrated deceit. Vietvet claims, "Thousands of people have been involved in fossil mdiscoveries". How does Vietvet know this? What proof does Viet vet have that the people involved even supposedly existed? Where is the proof that the claim of so many finding "fossils" is true? What, beyond photographs in books and people instructing the guollible to believe that it all occurred? And it is not a surprise that Torbjorn_Larsson_OM did not back up their words.
Vietvet
4.5 / 5 (8) Sep 19, 2015
@julianp

Are these all resin casts?

https://www.googl...od-akPEQ
Vietvet
5 / 5 (7) Sep 19, 2015
@Julianp

US And Canadian Fossil Sites

http://www.fossil...dex.html

These are areas you can find fossils in situ, no resin necessary.
Vietvet
5 / 5 (6) Sep 19, 2015
Nova has a first-rate documentary on the find.

http://www.pbs.or...ity.html

!hr 57min
Vietvet
4.3 / 5 (6) Sep 19, 2015
THE DIG ON PALEONTOLOGY DIGS IN THE UNITED STATES

http://outboundad...-states/

This is something I might not be able to do but there's no way I'm taking it off my bucket list.
qquax
5 / 5 (3) Sep 19, 2015
"That is why today no African is respected anywhere in the world because of this type of theory,"

The irony, that statements like these are undermining their respectability, is unfortunately lost on them.
SteveS
5 / 5 (5) Sep 19, 2015
Again, a demonstration of wholesale gullibility and orchestrated deceit. Vietvet claims, "Thousands of people have been involved in fossil mdiscoveries". How does Vietvet know this? What proof does Viet vet have that the people involved even supposedly existed? Where is the proof that the claim of so many finding "fossils" is true? What, beyond photographs in books and people instructing the guollible to believe that it all occurred? And it is not a surprise that Torbjorn_Larsson_OM did not back up their words.


I've found many fossils on the Dorset coast. Am I lying?
Shootist
5 / 5 (1) Sep 20, 2015
Nobody mention Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in non-Africans...


OK. Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA occurs only in non-Africans..
ThomasQuinn
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 21, 2015
Again, a demonstration of wholesale gullibility and orchestrated deceit. Vietvet claims, "Thousands of people have been involved in fossil mdiscoveries". How does Vietvet know this? What proof does Viet vet have that the people involved even supposedly existed? Where is the proof that the claim of so many finding "fossils" is true? What, beyond photographs in books and people instructing the guollible to believe that it all occurred? And it is not a surprise that Torbjorn_Larsson_OM did not back up their words.


I've found many fossils on the Dorset coast. Am I lying?


No, you're not lying. Actually, according to julianperiod, you simply don't exist: you're just a bot run by a computer to corrupt true believers. I bet you never knew that!

But all those people mentioned in the Bible were totally real. And Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Everything in the Bible is true, because it says so in the Bible (NO! Don't check, heathen!)

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