Relative describes horror of finding loved ones’ graves in ‘floating cemetery’

A relative of two people who were buried at a new Ventersdorp cemetery‚ situated in an area unsuitable for a graveyard‚ has described her horror when she went to visit their waterlogged graves.

Francinah Mathongwane’s brother-in-law‚ Frans Mathongwane‚ shot his wife Maria before turning a gun on himself on February 5 last year.

Francinah‚ from Dawn Park in Boksburg‚ said the couple was buried on February 13 at a new cemetery in Tshing in Ventersdorp in North West. The old cemetery had been closed because it was full. She did not go to the cemetery but stayed at home preparing to welcome mourners back from the burial. Francinah decided to visit the graves on February 21 before travelling back home to Gauteng.

What she found at the cemetery disturbed her.

“I found graves filled with water. In our culture‚ when you bury the loved ones‚ that is their place to rest. The deceased must not be disturbed.”

She said when she saw the graves in that state‚ she wanted to cry as it was the first time she had seen anything like that in her life.

“There was water everywhere. It had not been raining. It was a frightening flow of water.”

She reported the situation to the municipality but almost a year later‚ the municipality had not done anything about it.

This week‚ the municipality extended an offer to the families to relocate the 48 people buried at the cemetery to a safe facility.

“The plan is to relocate them as soon as an alternative and suitable place has been found‚” council spokesman Willie Maphosa said.

Maphosa said the municipality was doing the necessary geological tests to determine the suitability of the land to be used as a gravesite. For now‚ the cemetery is closed to further burials.

The South African Local Government Association says availability of land is the biggest challenge facing the cemetery sector in the country.

Salga said apart from the high demand for in-ground burial causing a shortage of space‚ cemeteries had also been situated on unsuitable land.

“This is because environmental legislation relating to the suitability of the soil and the gradient of the land is either insufficient or not enforced. In some municipalities cemeteries are located near water sources‚ and the challenge is compounded by non-adherence to burial standards regarding grave depths‚” Salga said in its report on good practices in cemeteries management‚ which was published in October last year.

However‚ Johannesburg is facing a different problem.

Although it has adequate burial space to last for 50 years‚ as it has 5-million spaces available‚ the city wants to encourage secondary burials in existing cemeteries.

Jenny Moodley‚ Johannesburg City Parks spokeswoman‚ said this is because it wants to minimise the high maintenance costs for dormant cemeteries.

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