Cape Town- Traditional and religious leaders gathered in Cape Town on Friday to celebrate the life of Krotoa, a Khoi woman who was an instrumental interpreter and negotiator alongside Jan van Riebeeck.
Gathered around a tree at the Groote Kerk, they burned an incense plant and beckoned for her soul to rise from the unmarked grave where her bones had been held.
Her remains had been removed from the grounds of the Castle of Good Hope, nearly a century after she was buried there.
On Friday, some of her descendants returned with her spirit to the castle.
This coincided with the 350th commemoration of the castle and a Women’s Day military parade.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, custodian of the castle, first laid a wreath at the church and then at the castle.
She unveiled a wooden bench in Krotoa’s honour and addressed the crowd on the Khoi woman’s struggle.
Krotoa, still a child, worked as a servant in Van Riebeeck’s household.
Fluent in Dutch, English and Portuguese, she was said to be instrumental in working out terms for ending the first Dutch-Khoi war in the Cape.
She was baptised, given the name Eva and married off to Danish surgeon Pieter van Meerhof.
He was killed in a slave hunt in Madagascar and when Krotoa returned to the Dutch Colony to reclaim her status, she was declined.
She was later banished to Robben Island and her children sent to Mauritius.
“Her life depicts pretty much the example of millions of women in our country, but Krotoa didn’t wallow in self-doubt and rose to distinguish herself as a pioneer,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
“It is my wish that all of us, and young women in particular, make it a point to learn from this incredible resilient woman whose true account of her life was never told.”
Some protesters dressed in traditional garb stood outside the castle.
They questioned why not all Krotoa’s descendents were allowed inside, why she was being returned to the castle, and why the defence and military forces were there.
Mapisa-Nqakula said there was nothing wrong with the demonstration as it was people asserting their identity and history.
“If anything, it further buttresses that which we are talking about, that we must tell the true South African story.”
What was important for her was that Krotoa’s spirit was repatriated to a place, now a sacred ground, where she suffered pain.
A process was underway to have the castle listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
President Jacob Zuma would commemorate the castle’s anniversary on September 30.
Watch the solemn ceremony here: