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 in Port Elizabeth attended by Khoi traditional leaders and South African National Heritage Council officials on Friday decided to ditch the plan after agreeing 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 said.
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 known for his resistance to colonial rule. This led to his imprisonment at Robben Island where he escaped twice before being shipped in a convict 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 ($A405,000).