South Africa plans re-burials for slaves who built Cape Town

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The Independent Online

Flag-draped boxes containing the remains of 18th-century slaves and their babies, who perished under Dutch colonial rule in South Africa, were carried through Cape Town yesterday to mark the beginning of plans for a re-burial.

Flag-draped boxes containing the remains of 18th-century slaves and their babies, who perished under Dutch colonial rule in South Africa, were carried through Cape Town yesterday to mark the beginning of plans for a re-burial.

Hundreds of skeletons of the slaves who helped build Cape Town were discovered last year at a site believed to have been used as a paupers' burial place. They were unearthed in the city centre during the excavation of a 20-metre long (65ft) trench for a new construction project.

After yesterday's procession, the boxes were deposited in a disused mortuary at a city hospital where they will remain until an appropriate memorial is considered, Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo said.

"We will create a garden of remembrance, we will create a fitting memory so that the spirit wherever it's floating can come to a place of rest. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," the mayor said.

The skeletons are said to be those of slaves brought to the colony from west Africa, Madagascar and Asia by the Dutch East India Company which established a trading post in Cape Town in 1652, marking the beginning of Western colonisation of Africa.

Children were also born into slavery, including those fathered by white men.

Tim Hart, an archaeologist from the University of Cape Town, said the burial ground where the skeletons were discovered was used as a paupers' burial site for slaves. He said hundreds of skeletons were discovered at the site and 40 per cent were babies.

"The burial site was probably first used in the early 1700s and remained in use for about 100 years," Mr Hart said.

He said the high density of the bones in the area, seemed to indicate it may have been used during times of epidemic, possibly smallpox. Traffic officers formed a guard of honour as the flag-draped coffins were moved through the streets to the hospital. Prayers were conducted by clergy from various churches before the boxes were moved.

Further development of the building site has been halted until a decision is reached about the final resting place.

Officials want the site turned into a memorial, but a tribunal will be established by the South African government to decide on a course of action. The skeletons will remain at the mortuary until a decision is reached.

André Van Der Merwe, the project manager at the site, said: "Our site forms part of a bigger area where many others may be buried."

Trevor Manuel, the Finance Minister, spoke of the need for remembering and honouring those who helped shape Cape Town and South Africa. "We need to tell our offspring where we come from ... those who have shaped the history of the country," he said.

The slave trade was banned in the cape in 1807.

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