Experts allay fears over human remains find Dr Senzeni Khumalo

Peter Matika, [email protected]

The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) has allayed public anxiety over the discovery of remains of 21 people in Bulawayo’s Killarney suburb, which were exposed during excavations by a contractor while working on a new housing development project.

The Bulawayo City Council announced the development on Monday and advised that the remains, which are believed to be linked to communities who inhabited the area some centuries ago, have since been given decent burial. It warned that should more remains be discovered as the housing project continues, these will be collected and properly reburied in line with the country’s laws. 

NMMZ curator and archeologist, Dr Senzeni Khumalo, explained the whole issue yesterday saying the remains were found just before Covid-19 and there is no need to raise the alarm among the public, as the remains are over a century old.

She said following the discovery, NMMZ engaged several stakeholders to identify the bones in order to facilitate their burial.

“The remains were scattered in the area as they were moved by earth moving equipment from where they originally lay,” said Dr Khumalo.

She said as archeologists they were obligated to handle such instances with care, through carrying out thorough investigations.

“We research about the inhabitant’s history and surroundings. Here we pay attention to detail about the terrain and vegetation. 

“In this particular case we learnt that the area was used as a cattle ranching farm, which belonged to Willsgrove in the 1890s,” said Dr Khumalo. 

“So, these remains are older than that and our findings show that they may have inhabited the place in the 1800s before any other human settlements.”

Dr Khumalo said after all processes were conducted, the remains were buried at Luveve Cemetery.

“After our research and findings, we engage various stakeholders on the burial of the remains. We arrange and wrap them in special cloths and then bury them in miniature coffins,” she said. 

“We do not mix the remains, as these are different people and that is why we take time in our research,” said Dr Khumalo.

She explained that the remains were not complete skeletons as believed by people but fragments of human bones that are made of legs and thighs.

“We call them femurs. These are thigh bones. They are the longest, strongest bones in your body. It’s a critical part of your ability to stand and move,” said Dr Khumalo. 

“Your femur also supports lots of important muscles, tendons, ligaments and parts of your circulatory system. They are the hardest part of your skeletal system and take millions of years to disintegrate.”

The NMMZ official said in all parts of the world the discovery of human remains is no mystery especially when there is development in an area.

 

“Wherever there is development, human remains are bound to be found. There is nothing mind-blowing about this and this has been happening since the age of men,” she added. 

“The only humane thing we can do is to confer decent burials for them.”

Commenting on the issue, Bulawayo town clerk Mr Christopher Dube said human remains are not a unique phenomenon in all developing towns and cities.

“It’s reported that the remains of 21 people were discovered in Killarney and in terms of the city’s acts we cannot deal with human remains less than 100 years old. “In dealing with this case we engaged various stakeholders in identifying and verifying their origin,” said Mr Dube.

He dispelled rumors that the remains could be of people who died during the Gukurahundi era in the early 1980s.

“There is a national exercise dealing with that issue (Gukurahundi) and this should not be included in that. These remains are much older than that and the human remains have nothing to do with that,” said Mr Dube.

In its Monday statement, the City of Bulawayo said the human remains were encountered at various points of the housing development site. 

“The Department of National Museums and Monuments in the presence of the Zimbabwe Republic Police collected the remains, which were buried at Luveve Cemetery,” said the local authority. 

“The City of Bulawayo advises that the exhumation and reburial may continue to happen as the development work continues.”

 

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