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4 August 2023
Ancestral Remains and decolonisation of museum spaces
Museums are the link to the past. They help to address current issues and to plan for the future, and their exhibitions and collections serve as connections between the past, present and future. The museum also has the responsibility of ensuring that its offerings are inclusive, pertinent and representative. 
The writer Annelize Kotze is a Social
History Curator at Iziko

Several museums around the world are grappling with matters of repatriation and restitution of looted objects from around the world. What many people are not aware of, however, is that museums, like universities, house the ancestral remains of many indigenous communities - remains which need to be returned and interred. The repatriation and reburial of Sarah Baartman increased public awareness of past atrocities against the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Her return from France and reburial in her ancestral land in the Eastern Cape is a reminder of the difficult pasts that museums need to deal with, but it is also a success story to inspire and encourage.

For far too long communities have felt (and have been) subjugated, underestimated, marginalised, studied and stolen from. Indigenous voices very rarely found their way into museum spaces and practices. However, for the museum of today, it is imperative that community consultation does not just take place with affected peoples, but that the museum of today is honest about its past and about its efforts to decolonise, to be representative, and to be open to listening to the public which it serves.
Everything the museum does is ultimately for its surrounding and represented communities, and understanding their needs and concerns is critical to providing them with an inclusive museum experience. As museums, we can balance the voices in our exhibitions and the views on our collections by involving the communities of cultural origin associated with them. 

The University of the Western Cape will host a National Science Week special event on August 5. The theme is Khoisan Knowledge, Science & Memory. Annelize Kotze, a Social History Curator at Iziko, is one of the speakers - click here to read more about Kotze.