Return of ancestors’ remains forms the bare bones of restitution

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Return of ancestors’ remains forms the bare bones of restitution

FREE TO READ | UCT sets a precedent with a restorative justice project based on the skeletons of nine people

Journalist

It was a poignant moment: Anthony Mietas and Alfred Stuurman staring into facially reconstructed pictures of their ancestors, who died in the late 1800s and whose bones were unethically handed over to UCT in the 1920s. But the process has been a healing one: The Mietas and Stuurman families say that although the data delivered by the bones is upsetting, it is better for all to know this chapter of our brutal past.

This first-of-a-kind restitution story starts in 2017, when the university’s skeletal archives were being digitised. Researcher Dr Victoria Gibbon, who is in charge of the university’s bone collection, discovered that 11 of the skeletons in the collection (of more than 1,000) had been “unethically procured”.

While exploring whatever data she had available from the nearly 100-year-old submission forms, she found that the remains of nine of the individuals had been dug up on a farm near Sutherland in the Northern Cape in the 1920s  and handed over to UCT...

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