David Stuurman’s return postponed

dawid stuurman copyThe plan to repatriate the human remains of David Stuurman from Sydney in Australia was anticipated to be realised during the month of April when South Africa launched celebrations of its twenty years of democracy on the 27th April 2014. The National Heritage Council (NHC) which was facilitating the repatriation, convened a meeting with the representatives of the Khoi and San people today on 24 April 2014 at the South End Museum in Port Elizabeth to give a status report of the project.


Chief David Stuurman was one of the few known people who successfully escaped more than once from Robben Island where he was incarcerated for his persistent fight against colonialism as early as around 1808 and 1809.


The NHC acknowledges that the project has taken a long time in planning and consultation with various stakeholders including families, Khoisan representatives, Government and researchers. The progress that was made by the NHC and the stakeholders is satisfactory even though it is not what was expected. The stakeholders also understood that it is the nature of such complex projects that involve multiple stakeholders, extensive research and diplomatic interactions with other countries which is Australia in this case.


“We are grateful for the understanding of the National Khoi and San Council that the spiritual repatriation of Stuurman should be postponed to a later date. The commitment of government through the NHC to this project as a process of healing remains unchanged,” says Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, CEO of the NHC, who was leading the meeting.


Chief David Stuurman was a leader of the Khoikhoi people, born in 1773, near Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape. He and his brothers fought against Dutch and the British colonialism in the Eastern Cape. He was sentenced to serve a term on Robben Island because of his active resistance and attempts to re-establish an independent existence for the Khoikhoi. In this resistance he cooperated closely with the Xhosa people.  This included working closely with Makana (Mkhanda), the great Xhosa military leader. The history of  Stuurman and Makana is closely linked. He was part of the group that accompanied Makana when he escaped from Robben Island when Makana drowned. Because Stuurman has shown leniency towards some of the colonists at the time of the escape from Robben Island, he was sentenced to see his comrades executed and then exiled to Australia.


Chief Stuurman was a true national hero who should be celebrated by everyone in South Africa irrespective of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. He is a unifying symbol on whose legacy we should foster social cohesion and nation building. For he was amongst the first people to cross the ethnic divide by living amongst the Xhosa People on whom he found refuge during his militancy period against colonial subjugation and dispossession of land and livestock belonging to the Khoi-Khoi.


National Heroes like Chief Stuurman fough against the common enemy who sought to dispossess the people of South Africa of their land and livestock, and also fight against enslavement of our people. In that context, the story of the Khoi-San resistance is not different from those of our other leaders such as Kgosi Mampuru of Bapedi, King Langalibalele of the Hlubis, Khosi Makhado of Vhavenda, Kgosi Sekhukhune of Bapedi, Ngungunyane of the Tsonga Speaking people, Shaka of the Zulus, King Hintsa of AmaXhosa who fought tirelessly against colonial invasions and land dispossession. The difference in époques does not make one struggle of less importance compared to the others.


In April 1823, the convict ship Brampton, reached Sydney. Among the convicts on board were Stuurman and 11 other South Africans, including another Khoikhoi, Jantjie Piet.  During his time in Sydney he was given a “Ticket of Leave” which allowed him to work in Sydney.  Before he could return to the land of his birth, on 22 February 1830, Stuurman died and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Devonshire Cemetery. This cemetery was later redeveloped for the Sydney Central Railway Station.


Among the achievements that have been made to date is to place the Stuurman project as a nationally significant, secure the involvement of the Department of Arts and Culture, the research contribution by the Australian government, the assistance from the Department of International relations and Corporation. A research of the actual origin of Stuurman was also determined through a research wherein the Khoisan participated and agreed that it is along the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape.


The challenge at the moment is to find the required funding for the project which will include the construction of monuments in South Africa and Australia. The commitment from government and the reprioritisation of the repatriation of South Africans abroad ushers renewed anticipation that Stuurman will return to South Africa soon.


The project steering committee which consist of the National Khoi and San Council (NK&SC), Researchers, the Department of Arts and Culture, Government entities in heritage and international relations and facilitated by the NHC, reached an agreement to allow further work to be done around raising the required funds for the project. The finer details of the repatriation will be refined and be adjusted to the available resources. It was also agreed that the repatriation can only happen after the elections of 7 May. A team has been established to review the plan in preparation for a meeting between the NHC and the national Department of Arts and Culture to include in their planning for the year.

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