UK and Zimbabwe in discussions over human remains at the NHM

Zimbabwe government believes decapitated heads belong to independence fighters
Patrick Steel
The UK and Zimbabwe are in talks over the repatriation of human remains at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London.

The Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, speaking in Harare last week, was reported saying that the remains included the heads of independence fighters who were killed by the British in the late 1890s during the first revolt against colonial rule.

A statement from the British Embassy in Harare said: “The issue of the potential repatriation of Zimbabwean human remains was first discussed by British and Zimbabwean authorities in December 2014.

“The UK has since invited Zimbabwe to appoint technical experts to meet their museum counterparts in London, in order to discuss some remains of Zimbabwean origin.

“It is not yet clear whether these remains are related to the events, places or people referred to in the president’s speech this week.

“We await the appointment of the required Zimbabwean experts in order to take this forward. This story highlights the importance of following due process when handling sensitive museum collections.”

A statement from the museum said: "The NHM cares for 20,000 human remains in its collection. They are referred to by scientists both at the museum and internationally for research.

“We have a policy of considering formal requests for return of human remains to their places of origin, under the provisions of Section 47 of the Human Tissue Act 2004, and we have been involved in a series of significant repatriations.

“This is a thorough process that involves establishing the correct provenance of remains based on complex historical sources.

“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 this week.”

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