Heritage sites opened to honour the life of Sarah Bartmann

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pretoria - Government is to honour the life of Sarah Bartmann by establishing the Sarah Centre of Remembrance, the Sarah Bartmann Human Rights Memorial and the Khoi-San Heritage Route, during the month of March.

These sites will be opened during the month of March by the Department of Arts and Culture to acknowledge the tribulations and trials of Sarah Bartmann and the role that the Khoisan people played in the struggle against colonialism and racism by hosting the series of events.

The events will form part of efforts to address the historical imbalances in the heritage sector in South Africa.

Ms Bartmann has become an icon of oppression and colonialism, systems that systematically stripped Africans of their dignity.

Other events include an academic colloquium at the University of Western Cape will focus on issues such as gender oppression, de-humanisation and objectification of women, stereotyping, racism and genocide.

The Sarah Bartmann Centre of Remembrance architectural competition will be unveiled on 7 March in Hankey, Eastern Cape Province.

The Department has partnered the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces, the University of Western Cape, Kouga Municipality, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Khoi-San Agency to ensure that the planned activities are as inclusive and productive as possible

Sarah Bartmann, a South African Khoi-San woman, was born in 1789 and worked as a slave in Cape Town when she was discovered by doctor from a British ship William Dunlop.

The doctor persuaded her to travel with him to England where she was captured as a slave and became the object of racism and exploitation.

She was forced to publicly display her unusual physical features and she was subsequently displayed as a scientific curiosity. Her physical characteristics where not unusual for Khoisan women, however to the Europeans her features were larger than normal.

Ms Bartmann was later moved to Paris where she continued to be exhibited by an animal trainer in degrading displays for public amusement.

When she died, her body landed under the knife of the leading French anatomist of the day, Baron Cuvier. He had her body cast in wax, dissected and her skeleton articulated.

Her genitalia and brain were preserved in a bottle and displayed at the Museum of Mankind in Paris until as recently as 1974.

However, a year after the democratic elections in 1994, the new South African government initiated talks with Paris for her remains to be returned.

On 9 August 2002, on Women's Day, the remains of Sarah Bartmann were finally laid to rest at Hankey, the area of her birth near the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape.

Her grave has been declared a national heritage site.