UCT postpones reburial of human remains that were unethically obtained

2019-09-21 22:53


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The University of Cape Town (UCT) has postponed the reburial of human remains in Sutherland that it obtained unethically, in light of "broader engagements that are still ongoing".

The reburial was initially earmarked for Tuesday.

"The reburial will now take place at a later date, which is yet to be determined and which will be communicated in due course," the university said in a campus announcement.

During an archiving audit of the university's skeletal collection in October 2018, a curator identified several skeletons that were obtained unethically.

UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said at the time that nine individuals were from a single farm in Sutherland, Northern Cape and appeared to have been removed by the owner of the farm in the 1920s and sent to UCT.

"These Khoisan people had been captured and forced to work as indentured labourers on the farm," she said, noting that it had sadly been a common practice in the country.

"There is no evidence that UCT staff did any research with these skeletons, although we cannot confirm that they remained undisturbed in the collection."

The university began investigating how it could return the skeletons to their place of origin. Among those it has met and consulted with relatives who were likely to have descended from the adults whose skeletons were sent to UCT.

On May 19, a UCT delegation visited the farm where the remains were previously buried, as part of a public participation process that was governed by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).

"A cultural and traditional exchange programme was held in Sutherland from 31 July to 2 August with participation by the family members; community leaders, including the local municipality; and both the primary and high schools. The exchange sessions were facilitated by Western Cape and Northern Cape traditional leaders," the university said.

UCT had written to SAHRA to formally apply for a reburial permit and received written feedback in August.

The institution planned to meet with the Stuurman family from the Eastern Cape in October, after meeting family members in the Northern and Western Cape a month ago.

Read more on:    uct  |  cape town  |  skeleton

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