UCT renames 'Jammie' Memorial Hall to Sarah Baartman Hall

2018-12-13 18:33

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has renamed its Jameson Memorial Hall in honour of Sarah Baartman.

"We are pleased and proud to share with you a very important symbolic step that we have taken in the ongoing transformation of [UCT]," Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng and chair of council Sipho Pityana said in a joint statement on Thursday.

"At a meeting on Saturday, 8 December 2018, council made the historic decision to rename Memorial Hall after Khoi heroine Sarah Baartman," they said.

"In this way we hope to honour her memory and restore to her name the dignity that was so brutally stolen from her in the 19th century."

They added: "While we cannot undo the wrongs she suffered, we can lift her up as a potent symbol of the new campus community we are building."

Baartman was only 20 years old when she was taken away under false pretences by a British ship and exhibited in London as a "freak show" attraction, the university explained.

"In 1814 she was sold to an animal trainer in France, where she died barely a year later of disease and homesickness."

After that, her body was dissected and some of her remains were put in jars of formaldehyde and used to purportedly study "the missing link between human and ape".

Her remains were on show in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, France and she was finally brought back home in 2002.

Fitting tribute

The university said it was fitting that the building be named after her, and that her name replaces that of Leander Starr Jameson, a former prime minister of the Cape Colony who initiated an unlawful raid that brought war to South Africa.

"Following the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in 2015, renaming Jameson Hall was a logical step. It is fitting that Baartman, a victim of colonial inhumanity, should replace a perpetrator of colonial crimes." 

It added that naming the hall after her was even more poignant considering that some of the university's buildings were constructed over the graves of slaves.

"We acknowledge our responsibility to not only the Khoi community but all communities to uphold Sarah Baartman Hall as a place of restoration, healing, growth and compassion," UCT said.

The renaming process began in April 2015 when the council of UCT established a task team to ask for proposed names and to report back to the naming of buildings committee (NoBC).

In June 2016 the team recommended changing the name of Jameson Memorial Hall, or "Jammie" as students call the vast building on the upper campus. In October last year the "Jameson" part of the name fell away pending the final decision.

After that the NoBC proposed that it be renamed after Baartman, with this document explaining the tragedy of her story

READ: We want bones of our ancestors back from Europe, says Khoi chief

The renaming forms part of a succession of events which came into the public eye through the #RhodesMustFall movement, and the eventual removal of Rhodes' statue from the campus.

This was followed by #FeesMustFall, a call for a changed university fee funding model, and #Shackville, a movement which not only demanded better accommodation for poor students, but also questioned the valorising of mostly white alumni, statespeople and artists.

Jameson was a doctor, facilitator of land deals for British entrepreneur and politician Cecil Rhodes and his agents, and other colonial-era representatives.

Later he became a magistrate, administrator, and a leader of attacks against opponents of British colonial rule, and had a hand in the consolidation of British economic power at the time. 

His mention in school history books usually centres on the Jameson raid, a botched attempted coup against the Boer government in order to grab economic and political control during the gold rush.

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