UCT apologises to families of Sutherland skeletal remains

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The University of Cape Town has apologised to the families of nine people from Sutherland, whose skeletal remains will be re-buried this weekend.

Their reconstructed faces were beamed on live screens to an audience of medical doctors, professors and politicians.

The remains were brought to UCT unethically by a medical student in the 1920s. UCT says their roots were traced to Sutherland in the Northern Cape.

The Institution is hosting a three-day reburial ceremony where the remains will be handed over to families.

The incident which happened more than a century ago has been dubbed a sad chapter in the history of subjugation and inhumanity. The faces had been scientifically reconstructed from their skeletal remains.

UCT says the bringing in of their bodies might have crossed the ethical prescripts. They were used for research by medical students at the University.

Interim Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town Prof Daya Reddy says, “As an institution of UCT we did not hesitate to admit to this wrongdoing and to apologise for it, so we committed ourselves to infer the dignity of these people and to return them to their families. The remains of four men and four women are from a farm Kruisrivier outside Sutherland in the Northern Cape. The 9th skeleton is that of an unknown individual and is also from Sutherland.”

There were four men and four women, with the ninth not identified and might have died between 1875 and 1890. Clearly identified were the skeletons of Cornelius Abraham and Klaas Stuurman.

Family representative Anthony Stuurman says, “No longer are we in the dark, no longer were we seeking and asking questions amongst one another and not necessarily each of us has an answer. No longer, do we have to look at each other in the eye and not know where we are coming from. So in 2018, we started with this journey and we are extremely grateful to the university for owning up and apologizing. You didn’t play the blame game, you committed to correcting this.”

The burials will conducted in collaboration with the Western and Northern Cape provincial governments and the Heritage Resource Agency on Sunday.

Northern Cape MEC for Sports and Culture, Desery Fienies says, “The repatriation and reburial of the remains of those who suffered from the injustices of research institutions remain part of the government’s programme to restore the human dignity and historic injustice of our people who suffered inhumanity for the purposes of scientific research. We are also here to undertake a crucial step towards the restoration of the San and Khoi people’s dignity.”

A garden of remembrance called Sutherland Nine has been opened close to the Faculty of Health Sciences at UCT. The Faculty has also removed the names of those responsible, who had been rewarded with rooms and corridors named after them, to be replaced with Khoi and San names and expressions.

The university is handing over the remains to families in Sutherland for burial on Sunday.