It took 187 years, but Khoisan chief is home

MEC Pemmy Majodina flanked by chief Ray van Staaden, left, and Khoi activist Christian Martin, right, at the spiritual repatriation of Dawid Stuurman in Hankey yesterday.
Picture: Mark West

After being buried 187 years ago in Australia, Dawid Stuurman’s spirit was finally repatriated with a traditional ceremony in Hankey yesterday, celebrating the life and times of the Khoisan chief.

Provincial legislature ANC MPL Christian Martin and sports, recreation, arts and culture MEC Pemmy Majodina travelled to Australia to repatriate Stuurman’s spirit.

The two led a delegation, which included members of Stuurman’s family who performed a ritual at the Central Railway Station in Sydney where Stuurman was allegedly buried.

Stuurman was a political activist who was detained under the British colonial administration in South Africa in the 1800s and sent to Robben Island, where he managed to escape three times.

He became an icon and formed a pivotal part of Khoisan history.

During his third escape attempt in 1820 he was again recaptured, jailed and three years later was transported to New South Wales. He was recorded to have died at the age of 51 at the Sydney Infirmary 10 years after being jailed.

The delegation met with the Progressive Aboriginal Cultural Groups and shared ideas of the repatriation process.

Stuurman’s spirit was returned to South Africa on Thursday with the use of Umphafa tree branches which carried the spirit.

The Hankey ceremony was attended by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, Martin and Majodina.

Speaking in Hankey, Majodina said: “We are thankful that it is in our era that after 187 years Stuurman is getting his dignity.”

She said the objective of the spiritual repatriation was to unite and heal the country. “Finally, his grandchildren will be able to point out where his spirit lies,” she said.

The ceremony was also symbolic for Martin, who vowed three years ago to never cut his hair until Stuurman’s spirit was returned. Majodina and Nkwinti used a pair of scissors to cut off his dreadlocks yesterday.

“For me it’s a great moment. I would say mission accomplished. I am grateful to the South End Museum for the thorough research because everything I acted upon was done by them. This was a perfect time to repatriate his spirit,” Martin said

The spiritual repatriation entailed the delegation travelling to Australia to carry the Umphafa tree branches.

At every stop, the delegation had to address the spirit of Stuurman.

When they landed at OR Tambo Airport on Thursday, Stuurman was told he was in the land of his birth once again.

His spirit was then taken to Peddie, where he had relatives and later to Hankey for the traditional ceremony.

Hancumqa tribe chief Ray van Staaden described the ceremony as symbolic and long overdue.

“It’s a revelation. We have long been waiting for the return of the spirit of our grandfather. I am glad he has been released from exile,” he said

Earlier this week, Majodina said the Eastern Cape government had also repatriated the spirit of Xhosa prophet Makhanda Nxele, who drowned while trying to escape with Stuurman.

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