Speech at the Funeral of Sarah Bartmann,
9 August 2002
Fellow South Africans:
The day should be a day of celebration and joy. After
all, today is National Women's Day as well as the historic
day wheIn we return the remains of Sarah Bartmann to
the land she walked as a child and a young woman.
Difficult as it may be, we must still celebrate. But
we could not be human and not be deeply saddened and
weighted down with grief as we reflect on the short
life of Sarah Bartmann who has, at last, returned to
This occasion can never be a solemn ceremony in which
we bury her remains and bury the truth about the painful
circumstances of her death as well.
To this day, 186 years after she died, we feel the
pain of her intolerable misery because she was on us
and we, of her. When we turn away from this grave of
a simple African woman, a particle of each one of us
will stay with the remains of Sarah Bartmann.
We cannot undo the damage that was done to her. But
at least we can summon the courage to speak the naked
but healing truth that must comfort her wherever she
I speak of courage because there are many in our country
would urge constantly that we should not speak of the
past, They pour scorn on those who speak about who we
are and where we come from and why we are where we are
today. They make bold to say the past is no longer,
and all that remains is a future that will be.
But, today, the gods would be angry with us if we did
not, on the banks of the Gamtoos River, at the grave
of Sarah Bartmann, call out for the restoration of the
dignity of Sarah Bartmann, of the Khoi-San, of the millions
of Africans who have known centuries of wretchedness.
Sarah Bartmann should never have been transported to
Sarah Bartmann should never have been robbed of her
name and relabeled Sarah Bartmann. Sarah Bartmann should
never have been stripped of her native, Khoi-San and
African identity and paraded in Europe as a savage monstrosity.
As the French Parliament debated the matter of the
return of the remains of our Sarah to her native land,
the then Minister of Research, Roger-Gerard Scwartzenberg
said: "This young woman was treated as if she was
something monstrous. But where in this affair is the
Indeed, where did the monstrosity lie in the matter
of the gross abuse of a defenceless African woman in
England and France! It was not the abused human being
who was monstrous but those who abused her. It was not
the lonely African woman in Europe, alienated from her
identity and her motherland who was the barbarian, but
those who treated her with barbaric brutality.
Among the truly monstrous were the leading scientists
of the day, who sought to feed a rabid racism, such
as the distinguished anatomist, Baron Georges Cuvier,
who dissected Sarah's body after her death. It is Cuvier
who said after he had dismembered her:
"The Negro race... is marked by black complexion,
crisped of woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat
nose, The projection of the lower parts of the face,
and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the
monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always
remained in the most complete state of barbarism....
These races with depressed and compressed skulls are
condemned to a never-ending inferiority... Her moves
had something that reminded one of the monkey and her
external genitalia recalled those of the orang-utang."
It was the distinguished Baron who wrote:
"The white race, with oval face, straight hair
and nose, to which the civilised people of Europe belong
and which appear to us the most beautiful of all, is
also superior to others by its genius, courage and activity,
(And that there is a) cruel law which seems to have
condemned to an eternal inferiority the races of depressed
and compressed skulls... and experience seems to confirm
the theory that there is a relationship between the
perfection of the spirit and the beauty of the face."
Almost two centuries later, an honourable Member of
the Parliament of France, Jean Dufour, sided with the
truth and said:
"Enslaved, exploited, shown as an animal, (Sarah)
was dissected by scientists who wanted first and foremost
to confirm their theory of the superiority of a race
over the others."
A German predecessor of the Baron Cuvier, Johann Winckelmann,
a priest and art historian, had stated the batter boldly,
"The European, called by destiny to run the empire
of the globe which he knows how to enlighten by his
intelligence, tame by his abilities, is man par excellence;
the others are nothing but hordes of barbarians."
It was as one among these barbaric hordes that Sarah
Bartmann was sucked into evil purposes pursued by those
who defined themselves as a "man par excellence",
with a manifest destiny to enlighten and to tame.
When she died, Sarah Bartmann had indeed been enlightened
about the ways and the barbarism of "man par excellence".
But she was not tamed.
Though they did not end up in the Europe "called
by destiny to run the empire of the globe", her
people too, became enlightened about the ways and the
barbarism of "man par excellence". Like her,
they too were never tamed.
Today we celebrate our National Women's Day. We therefore
convey our congratulations and best wishes to all the
women of our country. We also mark this day fully conscious
of the responsibility that falls on us to ensure that
we move with greater speed towards the accomplishment
of the goal of the creation of a non-sexist society.
Our work in this regard must be driven by the knowledge
that the women of our country have borne the brunt of
the oppressive and exploitative system of colonial and
apartheid domination. Even today, the women of our country
carry the burden of poverty and continue to be exposed
to unacceptable violence and abuse. It will never be
possible for us to claim that we are making significant
progress to create a new South Africa if we do not make
significant progress towards gender equality and the
emancipation of women.
The gravity and urgency of this task is emphasised
by the particular place attributed to African women
by those who gave themselves the responsibility of a
civilising mission as "man par excellence".
They, more than the African male, were presented as
the very representation of what was savage and barbaric
about all our people.
The eminent French thinker Montesquieu had written:
"You will find in the climates of the north, peoples
with few vices, many virtues, sincerity and truthfulness,
Approach the south, you are leaving morality itself,
the passions become more vivacious and multiply crimes..."
An American theologian, Scott David Foutz says that
with the Europeans having convinced themselves of the
immorality of Africans in general:
"The bored, yet excitable European imagination
soon enthusiastically entertained and proliferated stories
of African women carried off by sexually/excited male
apes as mates and the alleged promiscuity of the African
women who, it was claimed, invited either man or ape."
Sarah Bartmann was taken to Europe to tell this lie
in the most dramatic way possible. She was ferried to
Europe as an example of the sexual depravity and the
incapacity to think of the African woman in the first
instance and the African in general.
Another eminent French thinker, Voltaire, had written:
"(Africans) are not capable of any great application
or association of ideas, and seem formed neither in
the advantages nor the abuses of our philosophy."
For his part, the Baron Cuvier made it a point to pay
particular attention to Sarah Bartmann's private parts
as he dissected her body, proceeding to present her
genitalia to the Academy of Medicine.
The story of Sarah Bartmann is the story of the African
people of our country in all their echelons. It is a
story of the loss of our ancient freedom. It is a story
of our dispossession of the land and the means that
gave us and independent livelihood.
It is a story of our reduction to the status of objects
that could be owned, used and disposed of by others,
who claimed for themselves a manifest destiny "to
run the empire of the globe."
It is an account of how it came about that we ended
up being defined as a people without a past, except
a past of barbarism, who had no capacity to think, who
had no culture, no value system to speak of, and nothing
to contribute to human civilisation - people with no
names and no identity, who had to be defined by he who
was"man par excellence", and described by
another French thinker, Diderot, as "always vicious
... mostly inclined to lasciviousness, vengeance, theft
We are South Africans. To understand the meaning of
all these things, we do not have to refer to England,
Germany, France or elsewhere in Europe. We do not have
to recall a European history that extends to the 19th,
the 18th earlier and later centuries.
To understand the meaning of all these things, we need
only start here, on the banks of the Gamtoos River and
advance to the rest of our country. We need to cast
our eyes back to a period less than ten years ago. Then
the state ideology, whatever the garments in which it
was clothed, was firmly based on the criminal notion
that some had been called upon to enlighten and tame
the hordes of barbarians, as Sarah Bartmann was enlightened
The legacy of those centuries remains with us, both
in the way in which our society is structured and in
the ideas that many in our country continue to carry
in their heads, which inform their reaction their action
on important matters.
This means that we still have an important task ahead
of us - to carry out the historic mission of restoring
the human dignity of Sarah Bartmann, of transforming
our into a truly non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous
country, providing a better life for all our people.
A troubled and painful history has presented us with
the challenge and possibility to translate into reality
the noble vision that South Africa belongs to all who
live in it, black and white. When that is done, that
will it be possible for us to say that Sarah Bartmann
has truly come home.
The changing times tell us that she did not suffer
and die in vain. Our presence at her graveside demands
that we act to ensure that what happened to her should
never be repeated.
This means that we must act to restore the dignity
and identity of the Khoi and San people as a valued
part of our diverse nation.
It means that we must act firmly and consistently to
eradicate the legacy of apartheid and colonialism in
all its manifestations.
It means that we must not relent in the struggle to
build a truly non-racial society in which black and
white shall be brother and sister.
Our presence at this grave demands that we join in
a determined and sustained effort to ensure respect
for the dignity of the women of our country, gender
equality and women's emancipation.
It demands that we defend our democratic order and
our regime of human rights with all necessary means.
It requires that everything we do should focus on advancing
the interests of the ordinary people of our country.
It says we must continue to pay tribute to and honour
the women patriots who marched on the Union Buildings
in 1956, the heroines who came before them, the heroines
who continue to serve today in the struggle for the
reconstruction and development of our country.
It also says that all of us must heed and act on the
words of the French parliamentarian who said: "Saartje
Bartmann's fate does not solicit our repentance. This
would be too easy. It must be viewed as an incentive
to continue the critical re-examination of our own history.
This work is necessary if we want to eradicate racism,
xenophobia and the contempt of some people for other
I am honoured to announce that this place of final
rest for Sarah Bartmann has been designated as a national
Similarly, a fitting monument will be built in Cape
Town from where Sarah Bartmann began her voyage of misery
On behalf of the Government, the Parliament and the
people of South Africa, I am privileged to convey our
heartfelt and profound thanks to the Government, the
Parliament and the people of France for agreeing to
return our Sarah to us, and for living up to the noble
objectives of the French Revolution of liberty, equality
On behalf of our Government and people I also extend
our gratitude to the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science
and Technology, to the delegation that received the
remains of Sarah Bartmann in Paris, including our Ambassador,
the Reference Group, the National Khoi-San Consultative
Conference, our National Defence Force and others who
have contributed to the success of this occasion.
I would also like to thank the Premier of the Eastern
Cape, MEC Balindlela, the rest of the government of
the province and the Mayor and Council of Hankey for
everything they have done for this solemn ceremony to
Fellow South Africans, thank you for coming to this
important day and occasion in our national life.
The mortal remains of Sarah Bartmann lie beside the
Another African who lived in the Diaspora, this time
in the United States of America, for forebears having
been transported out of Africa as slaves, sang of rivers.
This is the great African-American poet, Langston Hughes,
"I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than
of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers."
May the soul of Sarah Bartmann grow deep like the rivers.