Dignity for human remains

  • Posted: Feb 15, 2017

Iziko Museums of South Africa

Iziko Museums of South Africa, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM), the Museums Association of Namibia, and the National Museum of Botswana, initiated a project on human remains management and repatriation. A symposium to share information, between institutions (both local and international) and Indigenous community members was recently hosted at Iziko on 13 and 14 February 2017.  

The objectives of the symposium were twofold: to discuss and further develop policies and guidelines governing such collections at various institutions throughout southern Africa, and to identify definitive conclusions for the way forward. One of the main components of the symposium was active participation by delegates representing indigenous communities, including Kei!Korana, Nguni and Khoesan (Bushman) peoples.

Discussions regarding the repatriation of unethically sourced human remains acquired in the 1850s–1930s in the name of racially-motivated pseudoscience have been taking place for years in southern African countries. The workshop encouraged cross-institutional collaboration and conversation about repatriation, ethical handling practices, and human remains collection management strategies. The discussions also highlighted both the unique challenges and positive results that repatriation claims can produce within museums. This was an opportunity for members of affected communities to present their concerns and needs to museum professionals and academics, and for institutions and government departments to respond in turn.

Iziko was the first South African museum to have a formal policy on the dignified care and return of human remains.  This policy governs, among other things, the acquisition, documentation, storage, research and return of human remains in its collections. Former Iziko Council member, Prof. Ciraj Rassool and Iziko staff have worked closely with the Department of Arts and Culture, making recommendations and advising on the process of repatriation of human remains. Iziko was thus a strategic contributor in the process of developing national policy in this regard.

“This is a project of national and international significance.  The conversation addressing the legacy of unethically collected human remains and the attempt to restore the humanity of these people, and the dignity of their descendants, marks the beginning of a southern African determination to deal with its unhappy colonial past. There is an urgent need for concrete steps to be taken as museums begin the complex process of renewal and self-reflexive critique”, says Rooksana Omar, Iziko CEO and President of CAM.

This symposium was the first of what Iziko and CAM, and their international partners, hope will be many constructive conversations surrounding the repatriation of ancestors and the role that scientific research plays in these processes.



Media Enquiries: Brighton Khoza 0214813838 mediaofficer@iziko.org.za
Issued by:  Melody Kleinsmith
Marketing and Communications Manager, Institutional Advancement,
Iziko Museums of South Africa
Tel: 0214813861 Cell: 0731074955 Email: Mkleinsmith@iziko.org.za
Website http://www.iziko.org.za                     

On behalf of:  Office of the CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa


Notes to editor:

About Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko)

Iziko operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure. The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at www.iziko.org.za, join our online community on Facebook (www.facebook.com/IzikoMuseums) or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions.


About the Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM)

The Commonwealth Association of Museums is an international professional association and not-for-profit organisation registered in Canada that has supported the work of museums and museum workers throughout the Commonwealth since 1974. CAM offers distance learning courses in museum studies, and supports initiatives within museum sectors in commonwealth countries and internationally.

blog comments powered by Disqus