Pretoria: The remains of Khoisan couple Klaas Pienaar and his wife Trooi, which were repatriated from Austria in April, have been reburied in Kuruman in the Northern Cape.
The Pienaars’ bodies were illegally exhumed and shipped to Austria in 1909, where they became part of what is today described as racial “research” by Austrian scientist Rudolf Poch.
After years of negotiation, an agreement was reached by both the South African and Austrian governments to return the Pienaars’ remains to their land of birth.
The remains were in April received by a government delegation at OR Tambo International Airport.
Today, President Jacob Zuma called the reburial the closing of a “painful chapter in our country’s history of colonial subjugation, racism and oppression”.
“We are here to correct a historic injustice, and restore the human dignity and citizenship of Mr Klaas and Mrs Trooi Pienaar,” said Zuma at the reburial ceremony.
Klaas and Trooi Pienaar were workers on the farm Pienaarsputs. In May 1909, aged about 60 or 70, Klaas Pienaar passed away after being sick for a month with malaria fever. In the first week of June 1909, his wife, Trooi, died, also due to malaria fever.
They were buried in the veldt on a farm at the instructions of their employer, the Griqua farmer Abel Pienaar. They left four children, who were temporarily taken into the care of Abel Pienaar.
The two were dug out from their graves in October 1909 by adventurer and grave robber Mehnarto, on Poch’s instructions.
“The bodies and skeletons sadly became part of the scientific collections of anthropology and material culture across a range of museums and institutions in Austria,” said Zuma.
He thanked Austrian government for working with South Africa to repatriate the remains.
“We are happy too, that the Austrian Minister of Science then authorised the formal removal of the remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar from the collection of the Austrian Academy of Science.
“Working together with the government of Austria, we are turning the tragic events that befell Mr and Mrs Pienaar into an opportunity for healing. It is also an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between our two countries.
“We therefore accept unconditionally, the apology expressed by the Austrian government for the actions of Rudolph Poch. Today, Mr and Mrs Klaas and Trooi Pienaar are no longer dehumanised objects of racial science and anthropology…” said the President.