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Barberton Geotrail Education Tour

- Gillian Drennan

This story begins in 2019 when the National Department of Tourism first offered to sponsor a multi-university geology trip to the newly inscribed Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site (2018). The objective was to promote domestic tourism and geotourism by exposing geology students and lecturers to the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail (2014), which is currently the only developed geological trail transecting the core of the Barberton Greenstone Belt. Regrettably, the trip could not take place in 2019 and was rescheduled for early 2020...but then came COVID, so once again, this initiative had to be postponed.

Thanks to the improved COVID SA statistics, on 29th and 30th April 2021, the proposed trip to Barberton eventually took place. In attendance were twenty WITS postgraduate Geoscience students (geology and geophysics; Honours, MSc and PhD candidates), ten UP undergraduate Geology students (3rd year) and twenty undergraduates from the University of Mpumalanga majoring in Tourism, Cultural and Heritage Studies, as well as staff representatives for all three universities. The group was fortunate enough to visit the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail, attend brief evening talks, and experience the warm welcome of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), the Provincial Department of Economic Development and Tourism, and the National Department of Tourism.

Students at rock face

From the WITS perspective, our Geology and Geophysics students were accompanied by Profs. Gillian Drennan and Robert Bolhar. Our very own Phumelele Mashele (an MSc Geology Candidate who is doing a thesis on how to expand the Geotrail to reach a wider audience, to promote multiculturalism and geoheritage) participated as well as served as a geotour guide along the Geotrail on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. She also presented a brief summary of her MSc work at a gala dinner at the African Rest Hotel on Thursday evening where we were hosted by the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Min. Fish Mahlalela, and the CEO of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, Boy Nobunga, along with a number of other invited dignitaries.

We were able to learn a lot from each other by mixing across disciplines and between institutions. We did not always agree on each other’s views, but we certainly did get to listen to others’ interpretations and look at the same outcrop through differently tinted glasses. We hope that this initiative is just the beginning of further collaboration and new partnerships as we look to increase our involvement in Geosciences education outreach initiatives in the greater Barberton area.