Renaming Memorial Hall Sarah Baartman Hall

13 December 2018 | Sipho M Pityana and Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

Greetings. Goeie dag. Molweni.

We are pleased and proud to share with you a very important symbolic step that we have taken in the ongoing transformation of the University of Cape Town (UCT). At a meeting on Saturday, 8 December 2018, Council made the historic decision to rename Memorial Hall after Khoi heroine Sarah Baartman. 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.

Sarah Baartman (or Saartjie, as she was known) was only 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 humiliation did not end there, however: a plaster cast was made of her body, which was then dissected, and her brain and genitalia were preserved in formalin. Her body was discussed by European scientists of that century as “the missing link between human and ape”. Her remains were displayed in the Musée de l’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 9 August 2002.

Renaming Memorial Hall will help to more holistically reflect the history of all the people of our country. 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.

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. We acknowledge our responsibility to not only the Khoi community but all communities to uphold Sarah Baartman Hall as a place of restoration, healing, growth and compassion.

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. Meanwhile, 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 with community, faith, political and cultural organisations, and led to the establishment of a core working group led by the Centre for African Studies that engaged in meaningful collaboration with the Khoi community as part of the renaming process. It ended in November with the official mandate granted for the renaming.

Many people have been involved in this important step in UCT’s transformation, and we are grateful to all of them. Professor Loretta Feris, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, has taken the lead in a lengthy, but unique process on behalf of the UCT Executive with the members of the NOBC, led by Advocate Norman Arendse; members of the Khoi community, in particular the Aboriginal /Xarre Restorative Justice Forum; Dr June Bam-Hutchison of the Centre for African Studies, who convened the dialogue process on behalf of the NOBC; and former vice-chancellor Dr Max Price and Dr Russell Ally, the executive director of the Development and Alumni Department, for making the first approaches to staff, students and alumni to rename the hall in 2016.

The transformation of UCT is a long journey, with many facets and many steps already taken and many ahead of us. But this step is a joyful one. We look forward to the events we will celebrate with you in Sarah Baartman Hall in future, and to achieving each new milestone that will make us more inclusive and representative as a campus community. We will identify an appropriate moment in 2019 to commemorate this renaming, and we will hold a special event to honour this remarkable womxn. We will keep you informed of the date for the official renaming ceremony in 2019.


Sipho M Pityana
Chair of Council

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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