UCT to commemorate slave burial grounds

11 June 2007

UCT has announced plans to commemorate an historic slave burial ground located on its campus, but wants the support and input of affected and interested stakeholders in deciding how best to do this.

The site - located on Middle Campus - is the final resting place of hundreds of slaves brought over from other colonies of the Dutch East India Company or born into servitude in the Cape, and who worked the farms along the Liesbeeck River in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Martin Hall said that the move is part of UCT's continuing work in transformation and forms part of the Respect campaign, a vital part of which includes acknowledging the history of the institution and the land on which it is built.

"The line of connection between UCT's middle campus in Rondebosch and Mowbray and the slave plantations of the 17th and 18th centuries remains largely unacknowledged," he said.

Following the destruction of the Khoe population by warfare and smallpox, the land that UCT now occupies became the Rustenberg farm, with vegetable gardens stretching from the present Main Road to the summer house beneath the freeway. This land would have been worked by slaves.

"While there has been symbolic recognition of Khoe heritage in building names and public sculpture," said Hall, "there has been little acknowledgement of the direct presence of the slaves who lived, worked and died on UCT's land over a period of some 150 years."

Researchers are working to pinpoint the exact location of the burial site, so that it can be protected from inappropriate disturbance.

Hall said that the since slave inventories for the Cape have now been transcribed - under the leadership of UCT's Professor Nigel Worden - and rich court records survive, it is likely that many of the slaves who lived and died on UCT land can be identified by name.

"This and other work opens up the prospect of accessing the memory of the descendents of these slaves," said Hall. "We are eager to hear what they remember about their forbears and also to give them and other interested parties an opportunity to decide how best we can commemorate this important site.

To help access this collective memory, UCT has appointed Nosipho Consultancy to facilitate a public consultation process. Doreen Februarie, project manager at Nosipho, said that the process will create an opportunity for affected parties - individuals and organisations - that have an interest in the lives of the slaves who lived and died in this area to provide input.

"Since 1994, all of us are on a journey to find out who we are and where we come from," says Februarie. "The UCT consultation on the Rustenberg burial grounds can add and important dimension to this search for many Capetonians who are in some way connected to our slave heritage."

Three public meetings are planned where interested parties will be invited to attend and contribute their ideas to the process.

Public consultation is due to get underway in July. Members of the UCT community with slave connections are encouraged to take part in the process. To get involved, contact Doreen Februarie or fax your name and contact details to 021 906 0764 or 021 906 1541.

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