Valuing historical context of three individuals exhumed from desecrated historic graves in Zeerust, North West Province
Van Vollenhoven, Anton C
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Since the promulgation of heritage legislation in 1999, under the new government after the end of Apartheid, stricter rules and regulations determine the management of cultural heritage in South Africa. This includes the processes related to the exhumation and reinterment of human skeletal remains. However, from time to time, projects are experienced where the rules are discarded, resulting in extraordinary circumstances. These need to be handled in a different way in order to protect and preserve the cultural heritage as well as the dignity of the buried individuals. Such an example is that of three desecrated historical graves from the town of Zeerust, in the North West Province. Despite the legislation, and the fact that the three graves were visible, the developer continued with the development. Only when members of the public complained, the heritage authorities were consulted. By this time the development had almost been completed. It was unfortunately impossible to preserve the graves in situ. Negotiations with different stakeholders were necessary and, based on the legislation, a solution accepted by all, was reached. Although the discussion to follow stems from a mainly archaeological study, the aim is to provide and value historical background research on the graves and the three individuals buried there. Also the value of the larger historical context is pointed out. This would provide information on the deceased which would to some extent restore their dignity. Apart from the archaeological methods that had to be utilized to exhume the graves, methods include a literature survey and archival search on the property, as well as on the graves and the individuals buried there. The article will also briefly discuss relevant aspects of heritage legislation in South Africa. It will be debated that historical context is extremely important, and perhaps could contribute in restoring the dignity of buried individuals. Though not ever complete, it does provide a legacy of the life of the three people to be discussed.