The Rock Art Research Institute
at the University of the Witwatersrand
The history of the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI) began in 1978 when David Lewis-Williams secured a small grant to study the rock art Harrismith District. While the Institute remained a small research outfit until 1994, South Africa’s post-liberation governments have strongly promoted the study of past cultural achievements, past indigenous beliefs and, in particular, rock art. Rock art now appears at the heart of the national coat-of-arms (RARI advised the President on the choice of image), the insignia used on all public documents, buildings and even on the national currency. Rock art and pre-colonial heritage is also now taking on the natural and pivotal position in South African schools’ historical education that it was denied under Nationalist Party rule.
This transformation in the societal acknowledgement and celebration of rock art and indigenous heritage is having a profound impact on all aspects of RARI research and public outreach. In recent years RARI has initiated a range of important international student and staff exchanges as well as a series of international research collaborations. RARI has recently run projects in Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. RARI’s international collaborations include staff and student exchanges with USA, Mexico, UK, China, Norway, Sweden, Germany and France. At home, RARI has constructed an African-wide rock art digital archive (www.sarada.co.za) and built the South African Museum of Rock Art (www.origins.org.za).
RARI is now the world leader both in rock art research and in rock art training. During the past decade RARI staff have published more than 100 scholarly articles and 15 popular books. RARI now produces more rock art graduates that any other institution in the world. With its new rock art museum in the Origins Centre, RARI also seeks to become a world leader in rock art presentation and rock art tourism. RARI is thus initiating a range of pre-tertiary training programmes in rock art guiding and rock art site management so as to use its strengths to drive rural job creation. The advantage of rock art tourism is that it takes visitors away from the overcrowded ‘honey pot’ tourist destinations and takes them into rural areas where jobs and income generation are most desperately needed. Rock art tourism/management is therefore a newly combined focus of RARI research and public outreach. RARI is also a flagship Research Institute in terms of transformation. More than 60% of its staff members are from historically disadvantaged groups. RARI is a centre both of research excellence and transformation.