History has always been harsh to Africans(so called black americans as well, female & male) but to Sarah Bartmann, a daughter of the soil, it was even worse. A sober atmosphere filled the National Assembly as parliamentarians put aside their differences and paid tribute to our ancestor on the 8th of August 2002.
Sarah a daughter of the Khoi people was born in Eastern Cape in 1879. In 1910 a British Naval Surgeon, William Dunlop took her away from her motherland South Africa to London. On the 29th January 2002 the French Senate approved legislation to repatriate the remains of Sarah Bartmann. The debate of this law in the French National Assembly took place under the theme "Repatriation of the Hottentot Venus". On the 21st February 2002 the legislation was adopted. In a moving speech by Minister of Housing Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele said: "The African continent at the time was not regarded by Europe as a place of historical entity, its people, its religion, its tradition and its culture only made sense when interpreted through the eyes and consciousness of Europe. Africa was regarded as a continent divided by civilisation, which could be described as "White Africa"and "Black Africa".
That was the time when Africa was vulnerable. Colonialism took advantage of these unfortunate circumstances and moved in to rob Africa of its dignity. Sarah became one of those who suffered under colonial prejudice, she became the victim of racism which embodied the superiority of a people whose culture and norms operated on the basis that what they could not understand, or comprehend, had to be inferior since they regarded themselves as the better race. What they believed in had to be better than anyone else`s beliefs. That was colonialism at play.
The sole purpose of Sarah`s abductors was to exhibit her in the Piccadilly Circus as an item of interest - basically viewed as a creature to be paraded to the European audiences for jest and entertainment. Her captors saw in her a commodity that they could use for making profit from the circus. Rational analysis makes us to doubt if the exact intention for her to be taken to Europe was explained when lured out of her country of birth. All we are told is that she was promised a share of the profits, which will be generated through the `wonder` that she was - how sad. A so-called civilised class debased itself to levels of disgrace and disregard for human dignity and respect. Abuse at its highest level.
The story of Sarah Bartmann reveals the saddest part of our history as a country and the humiliation that was meted out by colonial forces to the people of Africa. From top of the continent to south of Sahara, colonialism ravaged the culture of the peoples of this continent, accelerated the erosion of the unity of the groups and communities in the continent. ....
Sarah Bartmann, a woman of Khoi origin, was identified as a subject for scorn and humiliation. She was "exported" to Europe, a continent far away from her homeland, divided from her continent by the sea. How would she, even if she longed for home, be able to swim across back to the shores of the Cape seas? How would she run away back to her home of warm summers and green fields? She was encaged, enslaved and marketed in the circus as a strange creation of nature.
Sarah must have felt lost, desolated and lonely, and those who tried to fight for her freedom in the British courts, the abolitionists - were told that Sarah signed a contract willingly implying that she signed up for humiliation, degradation, scorn, prejudice, exclusion, racism and sexism. Did Sarah really want to be paraded naked along a stage two feet high, to be exhibited like a wild beast, forced to walk, stand or sit as ordered? We have heard that before, have we not? The slaves are happy with the treatment the masters and madams give them, these people would rather be here than anywhere else, so said the masters trying to justify their acts.
Sarah is one of us. She is back home; she is here to receive the burial that human beings are accorded by their families, communities and countries. Sarah is back to remind humanity that human rights, respect, dignity, befits all persons no matter who they are, where they come from, what they are called and named, they belong to someone, they belong to a community and to a family. They have relatives who love them. We love you Sarah for who you were, one of us shipped to the diaspora to confirm the prejudices of colonial masters, to satisfy the curiosity of a French scientist who could not resist to cut up her body when she died, dissect it to conduct experiments also as way of investigating whether she was real enough to be classified as a human, or whether she actually belonged to the circus as part of the animal kingdom tamed to entertain circus -goers.
Sarah`s brain and other soft tissues were preserved; her skeletal remains were put on a museum display until the 1970`s. Her debasement in both life and death came to reflect in very confirmed practical manner the voracity of an unfounded racial superiority complex....
This is the triumph of our people, from ashes of the oppression, from the scourge of apartheid and colonialism firmly convinced that safeguarding human rights and women`s rights is a struggle we must all continue to wage to ensure that human beings are treated equally with dignity. ....
To achieve genuine equality in our country, our programmes must be based on the real understanding of what gender oppression can do to a nation. Sarah`s history of persecution and humiliation is but an illustration of what happens to those who are discriminated upon on a basis of colour, sex or geographic exclusion. We are one nation that cannot afford to accept any form of discrimination after what we have gone through as a collective.
Oppression is rooted in a material base, it is expressed in socio-cultural attitudes all of which are supported and perpetuated by an ideology, which subordinates women. The history of oppression in our country has clearly demonstrated the fact that women became the instruments through which the strength, the resilience of our people were tested. They were thrown to the lowest ladder of the economic structures, turned into breeders of labour for the mines and farms, and forced to do the dirty and humiliating work churned out for the institutionalised systems that relegated them to the levels of sub-humans. Women in this country, particularly African women were subjugated, deprived and marginalised in many ways. They were regarded as junior and inferior to the male species. They make up the majority of the unemployed, the disempowered; they were not in decision -making structures. But our democratic approach to human beings today is to change such patterns of discriminatory practice.
On the 4th August 2002, in the City of Cape Town Civic Centre, Women`s organisations performed the dressing of the remains of Sarah to accord her dignity. This type of dressing ceremony is a sacred rite performed in Khoisan, African and Moslem cultures. It is usually performed by elders to prepare a body for burial. The funeral took place in the Eastern Cape on the banks of Gamtoos River. It was attended by high profile government delegation.
The President of the country, comrade Thabo Mbeki had this to say:
" We cannot undo the damage that was done to her. But at least we can summon the courage to speak the naked but healing truth that must comfort her whenever she may be.I speak of courage because there are many in our country who would urge constantly that we should not speak of the past. They pour scorn on those who speak about who we are and where we come from and why we are where we are today. They make bold to say the past is no longer, and all that remains is a future that will be. But, today, the gods would be angry with us if we did not, on the banks of the Gamtoos River, at the grave of Sarah Bartmann, call out for restoration of the dignity of Sarah Bartmann, of the Khoi-San, of the millions of Africans who have known centuries of wretchedness.
Sarah Bartmann should never have been transported to Europe. Sarah Bartmaan should never have been robbed of her name and relabelled Sarah Bartmann. Sarah Bartmann should never have been stripped of her native, Khoi-San and African identity, paraded in Europe as a savage monstrosity.... Indeed, where did the monstrosity lie in the matter of gross abuse of a defenceless African woman in England and France! It was not the abuse of a human being who was monstrous but those who abused her. It was not the lonely African woman in Europe, alienated from her identity and her motherland who was barbarian, but those who treated her with barbaric brutality...
Today we celebrate our National Women`s Day. We therefore convey our congratulations and best wishes to all women of our country. We mark this day fully conscious of the responsibility that falls on us to ensure that we move with great speed towards the accomplishment of the goal of creation of a non-sexist society. ... It will never be possible for us to claim that we are making significant progress to create a new South Africa if we do not make significant progress towards gender equality and the emancipation of women."
The late Comrade President O.R. Tambo once said "We would not consider our objectives achieved, our tasks completed or our struggle at an end until the women are fully liberated"