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19. April 2012

Remarks of Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo during the Repatriation Ceremony of the Remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar, 19 April 2012

"The Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Dr Phaahla, MEC of the Northern Cape Province, Ms P Williams, Representatives of the Bushman and Khoi Communities, Representatives of the Austrian Government, Excellencies Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentleman,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the South African Embassy.  We are gathered in a solemn ceremony to mark the return to South Africa of the mortal remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar.  Klaas and Trooi Pienaar were illegally removed from their graves near Kuruman, South Africa, in 1909 by an Austrian doctor, anthropologist and ethnographer, Dr Rudolph Poch.

About 4 years ago discussions commenced between the g"overnments of South Africa and Austria seeking to ensure that the remains of Klaas and Trooi are returned to South Africa for a reburial.  I wish to commend the Austrian government for their cooperation and support in this process. I acknowledge also the Austrian Academy of Science and the Museum of Natural History.  This was 4 years of detailed and sometimes sensitive talks between our 2 governments both in Vienna and Pretoria.In this process of tracing and locating the remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar the academia and other members of civil society also played a central role. I wish to acknowledge therefore the presence of members of the academia and civil society today.

This week’s ceremonies are in two parts.  On Tuesday at the Austrian Academy of Science, the remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar were officially handed over to the South African government and to the Bushmen and Khoi Community.  A cleansing and healing process was conducted at the Academy of Science by Mr Vaalbooi, a representative of the Bushmen community. As we gather today the remains of Klaas and Trooi are on their way back to South Africa, where they will arrive tomorrow morning.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the South African government, represented today by the Deputy Minister, as well as the MEC from the Northern Cape Province, for their leadership and guidance.

I thank the Bushmen and Khoi community for their presence and guidance throughout the various stages of the process.  We also thank them for their patience.  We understand the pain and trauma that this community went through, the violation of the dignity not just of Klaas and Trooi, but of the entire nation, who came to be negatively objectified in the name of scientific research.  By this process we are therefore giving the Pienaars and the whole community back its dignity.  We are also affirming that today we live in a world in which such acts are no longer tolerated.  Indeed the remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar are returning to a South Africa that is different from the one they left in 1909.  It is a South Africa which is going through an important historical phase of nation-building and reconciliation.

I can relate personally to the experience of the Bushman and Khoi community when it comes to their loss of the likes of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar – my own grandfather died while working in the mines in Johannesburg and his remains have never been found.  It is therefore of significance for me to take part in this process, where we find closure in the case of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar."


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