Scratching through history in a petrified forest


There’s ancient treasure on the Wild Coast. It’s delicate, old. The vast Mzamba Cretaceous Deposits, a rare collection of 80-million-year-old fossils, is situated on the border of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It’s easy to walk right by, but to the trained eye of Benny Mbotho the beach turns into a scratch patch of natural relics. He reveals its secrets: an extinct ammonite here, a fossilised Strelitzia there. All you have to do is look closer.

When Mbotho went to the beach as a child, he didn’t realise he was walking on the sands of history. At the age of nine, playing drums on the rocks, an older friend told him he was in fact sitting on the fossilised shell of a long-gone sea turtle. Mbotho looked around him, and saw that there was an entire world to be discovered right in front of him, from remnants of shark teeth to giant clams. Known as the Petrified Forest, the beach is also littered with fossilised trees washed down from the land. After witnessing geologists examine the area, Mbotho took it upon himself to research the coast and its gems.

Today, he acts as a guardian and tour guide at the site, educating visitors about its importance. While it is a protected area, and fossil removal is prohibited, Mbotho is sharing the magic of our natural history and his home with Themba Lamampondo Tours. “As a tourist guide, I found it’s my great duty that I have to encourage the young and the old people in my area to protect the fossils,” he says. “I hope they will understand the value to protect what is indigenous in South Africa.”