Supporters of Dawid Stuurman name being used at the PE Airport celebrated the name change on Wednesday. Picture: Sibongiseni Gxabashe
Supporters of Dawid Stuurman name being used at the PE Airport celebrated the name change on Wednesday. Picture: Sibongiseni Gxabashe

Who is Dawid Stuurman, the man whose name will soon grace Port Elizabeth airport?

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Feb 24, 2021

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Cape Town - Along with changing the name of Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha, Minister of Sports, Art and Culture Nathi Mthethwa has also approved and gazetted changing the name of the city’s airport to the Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport.

The call for Stuurman’s name to be used came from the Khoisan community of Nelson Mandela Bay.

"He was a man that fought for the freedom and liberation of the people that were found here. We, as the descendants of the Khoisan in Nelson Mandela Bay, the name Chief David Stuurman is our first choice," Prophet Crawford Fraser said in 2018, when they first proposed the name change.

But who is Chief Dawid Stuurman?

According to Stephen Langtry, who works at Cornerstone Institute, a private non-profit higher education institution in Cape Town, Dawid or David Stuurman was a Khoi chief who fought against Dutch and British colonial rule, between 1799 and 1819.

“He is the only person to have successfully escaped from Robben Island on two occasions,” says Langtry.

“He resisted colonial rule as indigenous people were dispossessed of their land and forced to work on farms. He also opposed the conscription of the Khoi into militias that were created to defend the colony, and to attack San and amaXhosa.

“In 1809, David was arrested, charged and sent to Robben Island. He was among the first political prisoners on the island. By December 1809, David and a few others were the first to successfully escape from the island.

“David made it out of the colony and was given refuge amongst the amaXhosa. He was captured during the fifth Xhosa War and put to hard labour on Robben Island. On August 9, 1820, he escaped from Robben Island again.

“The getaway boat capsized at Blouberg. Makana, another resistance hero, drowned in this event. On December 16, 1820, David was caught and sent to Robben Island. He was chained to a wall until he could be transported to Australia.

“David arrived in Sydney on April 22, 1823. On February 22, 1830, David Stuurman died and was buried. The cemetery where he was buried was later redeveloped for a railway station. His remains have not been located.

“On June 13, 2017, a traditional ceremony was conducted in Sydney to repatriate the spirit of David Stuurman. A second spiritual repatriation was conducted at the Sarah Baartman Heritage Centre, in Hankey, to put him to rest.”

A sceenshot of Dawid Stuurman's ticketof leave issued when he was deported to Australia.

Langtry, who has experience in the public service, education and non-profit sectors, says his interest in history stems from a search to understand his own roots and place in Africa, as well as the roots of all those of people grouped together under the label of coloured.

“I have read widely on the subject, including the recent book by Patric Tariq Mellet - ’The Lie of 1652’. I also search academic journals and the internet for more information.”

On the recently approved name changes in the Eastern Cape, Langtry says: “Name changes are long overdue in order to shake the burden of colonialism and honour the indigenous cultures of our country.

“This is not unusual and happens globally. But name changes should not happen in the place of real changes to the structures and systems which allow inequality and racism to survive.”


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