By Shakirah Thebus
Do not disturb the dead!
This was the collective sentiment shared by ex-Simons Town residents at a public meeting held on the 7th September. The meeting was called for by the Phoenix Committee, a group devoted to those who were forcefully removed from Simon Town during the Apartheid Group Areas Act of 1950. Some of those families returned to the Simons Town museum for a rather unusual discovery- that of 300-year-old remains found beneath Sayers Lane.
Located on the corner of Palace Hill and Waterfall roads, Sayers Lane or Erf 4995 has become a matter contention. This after the remains of around 165 humans, both whole and disjointed body parts, were found when the development of a block of flats begun. Property developer and architect Michael Bester purchased the land in 2004 and put forth a proposal for the construction of a four storey building, marketed as supposed “low cost” housing for navy personnel and young entrepreneurs. Ex Simons Town residents have called for all construction to be suspended so that the origins of the remains could be investigated, detailed and commemorated on the site.
The idea of development has seen some support from residents but with the area protected under the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, many are requesting the suspension of all development until further clarity can be given on the background of the remains.
Ex-Simons Town resident, Sharone Daniels was born and raised at Sayers Lane said her family’s history in the area dates back more than 200 years. She said the process of restitution hasn’t really taken place or been effective.
“There were people who were given land back, some were given money, but I don’t think that was enough because there is still the pain that a lot of us carry,” said Daniels.
“The archaeologists made a comment saying there were no Muslim graves… who knows. They’re saying that it was the VOC that came here, my forefathers came here with the VOC under the pretext that they were free slaves, but they weren’t. We have documented proof. They lived there. That was there home. We are Simons Town, we just moved to Ocean View.”
Daniels questions who the exact target market for low-cost housing are. The figures provided by the developers show that the flats would not be affordable for those displaced from Simons Town or their later generations, whom Daniels believes should be given preference.
Dr Gregg Fick of the First Indigenous Nation says the matter should be investigated as the remains could be linked to the families who were forcefully removed from Simons Town.
“We want the truth. We want a DNA analysis of the bones so that we can honor them and find out is this part of our people. We have the right to know if it’s our ancestors”, said Dr Fick.
“If they’re our ancestors, we have a right to say that that is there resting place and we want them to rest there. We have a right to protect our heritage.”
It is believed that the remains belong to members of the 18th century Dutch East India Company Cargo ship. This however cannot be entirely confirmed.
Ebrahim Manuel, a well-known historian and former Simons Town resident believes that the remains could’ve been from those who were kept in the slave dungeon, a few meters away from Sayers Lane. Manuel has conducted research on the slave dungeon and visited the site in 1997, where found evidence dating back to a great-grandson of one of the exiles who was brought from Indonesia, whom he believes was incarcerated in the slave dungeon.
The scale of the burial site is unknown and there could be bodies found beneath some of the houses. VOC