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Zimbabwe presses for repatriation of skulls from Britain

Published 15/08/2015

The Natural History Museum said it has 20,000 human remains in its collection
The Natural History Museum said it has 20,000 human remains in its collection

The Zimbabwe government is "frantically working" to repatriate from Britain skulls of Zimbabweans killed in an 1890s anti-colonialism war, officials say.

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

President Robert Mugabe said Britain's Natural History Museum holds skulls of veterans of an uprising against British colonisers.

Known as the First Chimurenga, or First Liberation War, the 1893-1896 war pitted Zimbabweans using spears and bows and arrows against white settlers with guns.

The museum, in a statement released on Friday, said it has 20,000 human remains in its collection and has a policy of carrying out "significant repatriations" if there is full identification.

Mr Chombo said: "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.

"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 "among the highest forms of racist moral decadence".

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

His wife Grace 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?"

The Natural History Museum said: "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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