Home News S.Africa gives up plan to repatriate remains of rebel chief

S.Africa gives up plan to repatriate remains of rebel chief

Published on 26/04/2014

South Africa has abandoned plans to find and repatriate from Australia the remains of one of the country's first rebel leaders, Dawid Stuurman, because they cannot be located.

South African authorities will now resort to his spiritual repatriation, a traditional ritual to be performed by Khoi elders to bring Khoi San chief Stuurman’s spirit home.

Stuurman had joined a Khoi rebellion opposing British forces and was later exiled to Australia.

A meeting held in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth and attended by Khoi traditional leaders, South African National Heritage Council officials and other relevant stakeholders on Friday decided to ditch the plan after agreeing that it could not be seen through.

“After realising the complexity of the exercise and the time already lapsed after chief Stuurman’s death, we had a plan B in place for this process, and this was to repatriate his spirit if the remains could not be found,” National Heritage Council chief executive Sonwabile Mangcotywa told AFP on Saturday.

Mangcotywa said the plan was to make sure the repatriation of Stuurman’s remains coincides with South Africa’s celebration of 20 years of democracy which will be on Monday.

“After exhausting all channels, our plans have not succeeded. This is unfortunate. Our only remaining option now is to have a traditional ritual to repatriate his remains to South Africa, his home country,” said Mangcotywa.

There has been a nationwide campaign to repatriate Stuurman’s remains to the Gamtoos Valley in the Eastern Cape where he was born.

He is the last Khoi San chief well known for his resistance to colonial rule. This led to his imprisonment at Robben Island where he escaped twice before being shipped in a convicts’ ship to Australia to serve his term.

He died in Sydney in 1830 and is believed to have been buried under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Mangcotywa said they would now inform President Jacob Zuma and the Australian High Commission about the spiritual repatriation plan so that arrangements for memorial services at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and in the Eastern Cape could be started.

He said the entire process, together with the memorial grave, is estimated to cost four million rands (more than 270,000 euros/$375,000).

Christian Martin, a Khoi San activist and also an ANC Eastern Cape Member of Parliament, had vowed not to comb or cut his hair until Stuurman’s remains are repatriated.

On Saturday, Martin told AFP that he would now cut his hair after the spiritual repatriation which is expected to be done in September to coincide with the country’s Heritage month. National Khoi San Council chairman Chief Cecil Le Fleur on Saturday told AFP that Stuurman’s homecoming would be the final chapter in his rite of passage.

“These attempts are not only to bring Stuurman home, but also to have the rights and contributions of the Khoi San people recognised and appreciated when South African history is told,” said Le Fleur.

“Chief Stuurman and others gone before us, played a major role in the fight against colonialism and we respect them.”