Reburial hit by controversy

2012-08-11 15:21

The reburial of a Khoisan couple whose remains were illegally smuggled out of South Africa for racist research a century ago has turned into a political spat.

Klaas and Trooi Pienaar’s remains are being reburied in Kuruman, Northern Cape today at a ceremony officiated over by President Jacob Zuma. The price tag for the reburial is R1.7 million.

The Pienaars’ remains were repatriated to South Africa earlier this year after four years of negotiations. Their bodies were illegally exhumed from their graves on Pienaarsput farm in the Kuruman district by Austrian anthropologist Dr Rudolf Pöch in about 1909.

But the couple’s descendants will not be there to see them buried on home soil.

Relatives have accused the department of arts and culture of not respecting their wishes and of putting officials’ needs ahead of theirs.

“This funeral is clearly about them (the department) and not about us,” said a fourth-generation descendent, Professor Abel Pienaar from North West University’s health sciences faculty.

Francis Pienaar, another fourth-generation descendent, withdrew from the reburial steering committee on which she was representing the Pienaar family.

“I requested the caterers to make provision for halaal food because some of the family members are Muslim but they refused,” she said.

Professor Pienaar said there had been problems between the family and the department from the beginning of their association.

He claimed the department had whittled down to 21 the number of relatives from the Padmaker and Pienaar families allowed to attend the reburial. Padmaker was Trooi’s maiden name.

He said the department had cited “budgetary constraints”, and claimed that neither the programme nor the budget had been discussed with either family.

But Premi Appalaraju, the department’s spokesperson, said there were doubts about whether the Pienaar family was actually related to Trooi and Klaas.

“As with the reburial of Sarah Baartman the government felt that (Trooi and Klaas) cannot be subjected to another scientific study though the verification of family members by DNA,” said Appalaraju.

The government had decided to accept them as broader representatives of the community.

“However, research done by (academics) Professors Martin Legassick and Ciraj Rassool indicates that the Pienaars claiming to be family members are in fact descendents of the owner of the farm, Abel Pienaar, where the Pienaars were exhumed,” said Appalaraju.

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