An interdisciplinary team of academics from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and two international institutions has conducted a series of scientific studies on the remains of nine people from Sutherland. Picture: UCT
An interdisciplinary team of academics from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and two international institutions has conducted a series of scientific studies on the remains of nine people from Sutherland. Picture: UCT

Bones of contention reaches Parliament as descendants feud over UCT skeletal remains

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Oct 21, 2021

Share this article:

Cape Town - A member of Parliament’s Sport, Arts and Culture Portfolio Committee has now intervened in the ongoing dispute between UCT and the Stuurman families about what to do with skeletal remains in the university’s possession.

Two sides of the Stuurman family are laying claim to the bones, a part of nine sets of remains that UCT wanted to return to their descendants because it believes they were “obtained unethically” during the 19th century.

UCT planned to bury the skeleton in Sutherland, because it believed Stuurman was from that area. It made contact with a descendant of Stuurman in the area to have the reburial on September 24, 2020.

But a second set of descendants, in the Eastern Cape, approached the national Department of Arts and Culture to put a stop to the reburial in Sutherland, and that resulted in long meetings between them and the university.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said it was engaging with the relevant stakeholders over the rescheduling of the Sutherland reburial. He said it was postponed as a result of the prevailing Covid-19 circumstances in the Northern and Western Cape at the time.

“The stakeholders involved in these engagements include the Abraham and Stuurman families as well as national, provincial and local government,” said Moholola.

Committee member Denis Joseph recently wrote a letter to UCT and stated that the discussions between the university and the Sutherland reburial committee were not inclusive as they excluded the Eastern Cape family.

In a leaked letter, Joseph said he needed to point out that according to history the Stuurman family was originally from the Eastern Cape.

He said attempts by the Eastern Cape government to return Stuurman’s remains from New New South Wales in Australia confirmed their origin.

Joseph requested UCT and the Sutherland committee to reconsider.

Spokesperson for the Sutherland descendants, Anthony Mietas, directed all queries to UCT. However, he said they were still in the planning phase to have the reburial possibly in November depending on the Covid-19 numbers.

Edmund Stuurman, from the Eastern Cape descendants, has been lobbying for assistance to stop the reburial.

“We look forward to joining hands with all spheres of government in this regard. We are further convinced that a properly planned reburial event with all due processes being adhered to for the ’Sutherland 9 remains’ will play a significant role to bring healing and restoration to the indigenous and aboriginal people of SA,” said Edmund.

Moholola said UCT noted that all the other Stuurman families from the Northern Cape, Western Cape and from the Eastern Cape – with the exception of a specific group – were fully involved and have indicated unwavering support for and have worked cordially throughout the processes.

Share this article: