Zimbabwe presses Britain to return skulls of indigenous veterans

Chairperson of the African Union Summit President Robert Mugabe gives his closing statements at the end of the 25th AU summit held in Sandton Johannesburg South Africa. MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe is “frantically working” to repatriate from Britain skulls of indigenous people killed in an 1890s anti-colonialism war, said a Cabinet minister.

The state-run Herald newspaper Saturday quoted Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo saying Zimbabwe will talk to its former colonial ruler over the skulls reportedly held by Britain’s Natural History Museum.

“A team of experts to engage the British on the repatriation process is being constituted and will shortly leave for London to start the ball rolling,” Chombo said. “The British government … is now eager to have the remains identified for subsequent repatriation to Zimbabwe.”

President Robert Mugabe on Monday described the museum display of the skulls as being “among the highest forms of racist moral decadence.”

Mugabe said the skulls are of veterans of an uprising against British colonizers. Known as the First Chimurenga, or First Liberation War, the 1893-1896 war pitted locals using spears and bows and arrows against white settlers with guns.

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“We will repatriate them, but with bitterness, questioning the rationale behind decapitating them,” said Mugabe in a speech on Heroes’ Day, which honours fighters against white minority rule.

Grace Mugabe on Thursday said the display of human skulls is more objectionable than the recent trophy killing of Cecil the lion.

“They were beheaded and their heads are displayed in Britain as war trophies. These people who displayed trophies are mourning Cecil. They are hypocrites. Who are they to come and tell us about our animals?” said the first lady on state television.

Britain’s Natural History Museum, in a statement Friday, said it has 20,000 human remains and has carried out “significant repatriations” adding “it is not yet clear whether any remains in the museum collection are related to the events, places or people referred to in President Mugabe’s speech.”

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