University of Cape Town Names Memorial Hall After Khoi Heroine Sarah Baartman
The Council of the University made the historic decision of renaming their Memorial Hall in honor of the young enslaved Khoi woman, Sarah Baartman.
Yesterday, the Council of the University of Cape Town (UCT), led by its Vice Chancellor, Professor Kgethi Phakeng, announced that they had moved to rename the university's iconic Memorial Hall (formerly known as Jameson Hall) after Sarah Baartman, a Khoi woman who was taken from South Africa and enslaved in Europe in the 19th century.
UCT's Memorial Hall, now known as the Sarah Baartman Hall, is the site for many a prestigious events at the university, chief among them, graduation ceremonies and even exams and tests. The university has certainly made strides in terms of the transformation agenda, moving towards very progressive politics following the #RhodesMustFall movement which centered on the removal of a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes that was positioned on the university's main campus.
Sarah Baartman was a descendant of the Khoikhoi (or Khoi), an indigenous people of South Africa who are famously known for their language which purely comprises of clicks and has also influenced the click system in other Bantu languages of Southern Africa such as IsiXhosa and IsiZulu. Baartman was born in what is now the Eastern Cape Province. Clashes between the Khoi and the Dutch occurred following the Dutch's desire to expand their colonial empire. Baartman was enslaved and taken to England where, because of her typical Khoi physique, a large derriére and very light complexion, she was used to attract hundreds of Europeans who considered her a "freak show" for their amusement. She later died of disease in France.
Former President Nelson Mandela, in a process that took approximately eight years, eventually had the French return Baartman's remains to South Africa. She was laid to rest in the Eastern Cape following a sacred Khoi ceremony. Read more about her history here.
In a written statement also released by the university, they cited another important reason for the historic decision:
"It is fitting that a woman who was treated as a slave should be honoured by UCT, where some buildings have been constructed over the graves of past slaves and many of our communities have been affected by its legacy. This is one way we can pay homage to the lives that were lost through slavery, and the consequences of that evil practice in modern-day Cape Town."
In a press conference, Phakeng and Chancellor Graça Machel, the wife of the late Nelson Mandela, announced the decision to rename Memorial Hall and several other reasons for it. Watch the video below.