Remains of Khoisan couple repatriated to SA

Friday, April 20, 2012

Johannesburg - Government has repatriated the remains of a Khoisan man, Klaas Pienaar and his wife Trooi, from Austria.

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile received the Pienaars' remains from a government delegation led by his Deputy Dr Joe Phaahla at OR Tambo International Airport on Friday.

After some years of negotiation, an agreement was finally reached by both the South African and Austrian governments to return the Pienaars' remains to their land of birth.

The Pienaars' bodies were illegally exhumed and shipped to Austria in 1909, where they became part of what is today described as racial "research" by Austrian scientist Rudolf Poch.

Speaking to reporters after receiving the remains, Mashatile described the return of the Khoisan couple as a triumph over oppression.

"To us, this is significant and a major milestone. It is particularly a triumph over oppression."

Mashatile said the fact that the remains were brought back home in the same month that South Africans mark Freedom Day meant that Klaas and his wife were finally free after more than 100 years of injustice.

The minister said the couple, which was exhumed from their graves in Kuruman, will be given proper re-burial amongst their people in the Northern Cape next month.

"We've just reached an agreement with the Pienaar family, Northern Cape provincial government, Khoisan community that the reburial should be conducted in the second week of May."

According to Phaahla, who was also in Vienna, Austria, to finalise the repatriation process of the remains, Klaas and Trooi's remains were kept at the Academy of Science before they were moved to the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

He said the Austrian government handed over the remains to them on Tuesday at the National History Museum, where a ritual was performed by the Khoisan people.

From what they have established, there are still more remains of South Africans in that country and they will begin efforts to repatriate them as well.

Northern Cape MEC for Social Development, Alvin Botes, said people of the Northern Cape viewed the repatriation of the Pienaars' remains as dear efforts by government.

"We are looking forward to giving the couple a proper re-burial and from now onwards, we are saying our human dignity should be respected and none of our graves should be opened or exhumed without our permission," he said.

One of the couple's direct granddaughters, Francis Pienaar, said while her grandparent's graves were exhumed in Danielskuil near Kuruman, as a family they have not yet decided where the re-burial will take place.

"As a family we are extremely excited and we don't know how we can thank our government..." she said.

The repatriation is part of government's efforts to restore dignity to the victims of colonialism and racism. In January 2002, Sarah Baartman's remains were returned to South Africa and put an end to the many years of exploitation she endured abroad.