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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X


KERSEBOOM, Simone. Grandmother-martyr-heroine: Placing Sara Baartman in South African post-apartheid foundational mythology. Historia [online]. 2011, vol.56, n.1, pp.63-76. ISSN 2309-8392.

This article examines the many roles that the iconic figure of Sara Baartman has been assigned in South African post-apartheid nation-building politics. The mythologising of Baartman as grandmother, martyr, and heroine is indicative of the creation of a new foundational mythology for post-apartheid South Africa. This article shows that the return of Baartman's remains to South Africa initiated the creation of the myth of Baartman as a national grandmother, martyr, and heroine as government rhetoric and the media generated significant publicity around the repatriation process that began in 1994. New and invented meanings were inscribed on her remains and lived experiences that would allow for the re-invention of her story within the context of firstly, Nelson Mandela's Rainbow Nation, and later of Thabo Mbeki's African Renaissance. This article contends that Baartman's return to and burial in her "home-soil" serves as a symbolic ending to colonialism, slavery and racism - the central signifiers of Baartman's life - and that this has made her a significant founding figure within the creation of a new foundational mythology in South Africa. The article demonstrates how Baartman's history was re-shaped, re-cast and re-invented into an ideal story for the South African transition thus separating and dis-remembering the real, lived personality from the myth created to serve the process of nation-building.

Keywords : Sara Baartman; martyr; heroine; mythology; myth-making; foundational mythology; Rainbow Nation; African Renaissance; founding figure; post-apartheid state; nationalism.

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