Sara Baartman

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Sara Baartman can refers to the famous 18th century South African woman, or to the title of the 2022 opera about her life, composed by Hendrik Hofmeyr.

Sara Baartman - the woman

Sara Baartman (c1770s-1815) was a Khoi-Khoi woman, who was displayed as a performer in so-called freak shows in Britain and Europe.

Also known as Sarah Baartman, Saartjie Baartman and often dubbed the La Vénus Hottentote or Hottentot Venus, the names under which she was displayed in Europe.


Born sometime in the period 1770s–1789 near the Gamtoos River, Eastern Cape, Dutch Cape Colony.

She became celebrated at the time, despite her demeaning life (see the Sources listed below), and has since become a significant Griqua and Khoi-Khoi icon. Her story has also served as a potent political metaphor over the years.

She died in Paris, France in 1815.

She has had her dignity restored in death when her remains were returned from Europe and buried in the Eastern Cape on August 9 2002. This was only achieved after the Griqua people launched a campaign in 1995 to get back her remains. Her remains are now interred at Vergaderingskop, Hankey, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Cultural role

A number of literary works, plays and performance pieces have been based on her life, particularly after the fall of the Apartheid government and the burgeoning process of rewriting South African history.

The works include:

La Vénus Hottentote; ou Haine aux Françaises, a one-act vaudeville by Emmanuel Théaulon, Armand d'Artois and Nicolas Brazier (1814)

Hottentot Venus and Other Poems, a collection of poems by Stephen Gray (R. Collings, 1979).

Venus[1], a play by Suzan-Lori Parks[2] (1996)

Kom terug, Saartjie (“Come back Saartjie”) a play by Hans Pienaar (2005).

Sarah by Braam van der Vyver (2006).

Saartjie, a short opera by Hendrik Hofmeyr and Fiona Zerbst (2010)

Cargo: Precious a play by Sylvaine Strike (2014).

Ons is Almal Freaks Hier (2018).

Venus vs Modernity, a play by Lebo Mashile (2019).

Sara Baartman, an opera by Hendrik Hofmeyr (2022).

Sara Baartman - the opera

Original text

The opera traces Baartman’s tragic history, bound up in the country’s history of racial and gender oppression and degradation. The opera begins in the Cape where she was employed by a family of freed slaves. It moves to show her being paraded as an exotic specimen in 19th-century Europe and investigated by the racist scientist Georges Cuvier in Paris. It ends with her untimely death there in 1815.

The opera’s genesis lies in the 20-minute opera created for the SACM's centenary in 2010. Saartjie, composed by Hofmeyr and Fiona Zerbst was one of five mini-South African operas created for the celebration. It imagines Baartman’s last night in Paris on New Year’s Eve in 1815.

Performance history in South Africa

2022: The world première of the opera Sara Baartman on 7 September was the first of three performances in the Pam Golding Theatre at UCT’s Baxter Theatre Centre. The opera was written by Prof Hendrik Hofmeyr and the orchestra conducted by Jeremy Silver. The directors were Janice Honeyman, and Zenobia Kloppers, an opera singer of Khoi descent. It was performed in collaboration with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra from 7 to 10 September.


G.J. van Niekerk. 2007. The Case of the Hottentot Venus: An exercise in legal history, in Fundamina (2007: 13-2)[3]

‘Sara Baartman’ opera brings ‘complex, multifaceted’ character to life. University of Cape Town. 16 September 2022.