In French law is a poem written by Diana Ferrus in 1998 as a homecoming piece for Sara Baartman, the heroine displayed as a freak of nature in Europe. The poem is titled, "I have come to take you home". A line in the poem goes:
"I have come to wrench you away, away from the poking eyes of the man-made monster who lives in the dark with his clutches of imperialism..."
It is a statement of intention, Sara Baartman will be dignified! In South Africa, the University of Cape Town has always been ahead of the curve. In September, the university displayed the world-renowned sculpture by Willie Bester at the campus and black female students "clothed the sculpture in a kanga and a headwrap to give Baartman her dignity".
Now the university has decided to rename its Memorial Hall to Sara Baartman Hall. This is not just a name change, it is a cultural statement. Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng and the Chair of the University Council, Sipho Pityana have even said as much. In a joint statement, they said, "In this way we hope to honour her memory and restore to her name the dignity that was so brutally stolen from her in the 19th century." The move is part of the university's drive to achieve transformation and inclusivity. While no one could ever undo the wrongs she suffered, UCT has committed to lifting "her up as a potent symbol of the new campus community" they are building. Indeed, it is just as Ferrus wrote, "I have come to take you home where the ancient mountains shout your name."
Sara Baartman was whisked from South Africa under the veil of British deception when she was just 20 years old. She was exhibited as a freak of nature, a circus animal and in 1814, she was sold to an animal trainer. There is no irony in it; they thought she was an animal and simply sold her off to an animal trainer. Even beyond the grave, Europe was not done with her. Her brain and genitals were placed in jars and displayed at a Museum in France. Was she not the female African European pseudo-scientists called Homo Sapien Monstrous? They thought she was an animal but to Africa, may her name be plastered on all manner of halls and books. May she be celebrated for her strength in the face of all the indignity. She is a culture-symbol, a heroine.
The Europeans even disrespected her humanity to the extent of displaying her brain, skeleton and sexual organs in a Paris museum until 1974.
Header Image: African News Agency