As part of its ongoing transformation efforts, UCT’s council has taken a historic decision to rename its Memorial Hall after Khoi heroine Sarah Baartman.
The announcement was made during the robing ceremony of vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng last Thursday, which was followed by a graduation ceremony.
Professor Phakeng said the council had made the historic decision at a meeting on Saturday December 8.
“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. With Sarah Baartman Hall at the heart of our campus, we are taking a key step in the university’s commitment to transformation and inclusivity. While we cannot undo the wrongs she suffered, we can lift her up as a potent symbol of the new campus community we are building,” she said.
Sarah Baartman (or Saartjie, as she was known) was 20 years old when she was taken away under false pretences by a British ship. In London she was exhibited as a freak show attraction. In 1814 she was sold to an animal trainer in France, where she died barely a year later of disease and homesickness. Her remains were displayed in the Musee de * ’Homme from 1816 until 1986, even after the Griqua people began requesting their return in the 1950s. Finally, in May 2002, Baartman was brought home to South Africa, with a traditional Khoisan ceremony held on August 9 2002.
The hall was originally named after Sir Leander Starr Jameson, a former prime minister of the Cape Colony who initiated an unlawful raid that brought war to South Africa.
“Following the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in 2015, renaming Jameson Hall was a logical step. It is fitting that Baartman, a victim of colonial inhumanity, should replace a perpetrator of colonial crimes,” said Professor Phakeng.
In 2016 UCT invited students, staff and alumni to suggest possible names for the hall. In June 2016 Council passed a resolution to rename the hall, and in October 2017 Council agreed to call it Memorial Hall in the interim.
The Naming of Buildings Committee (NOBC) had proposed Sarah Baartman as the new name and had initiated the appropriate procedures and consultations with members of UCT and the Khoi community. This process of consultation commenced in March 2018 and ended in November with the official mandate granted for the renaming.
Professor Phakeng said the transformation of UCT was a long journey, with many facets and many steps already taken and many to come.
Five graduation ceremonies saw approximately 1 885 students graduating from Thursday to Friday December 13 and 14. This included 118 Doctoral and 780 Master’s degrees and brought the total number of students who graduated at UCT this year to over 7 000.