Church group does ‘graveyard shift’ at cemetery

RESTORING RESPECT: Church members Nonhlanhla Canham and Shaun Thornhill got stuck in clearing the Cambridge Cemetery on Saturday along with 90 fellow members of the Mormon Helping Hands Picture: BARBARA HOLLANDS
RESTORING RESPECT: Church members Nonhlanhla Canham and Shaun Thornhill got stuck in clearing the Cambridge Cemetery on Saturday along with 90 fellow members of the Mormon Helping Hands Picture: BARBARA HOLLANDS
An energetic church group will not rest until the entire Cambridge Cemetery has been cleared of waist-high weeds and alien vegetation which have snaked over graves, obliterating many from sight.

Wearing yellow bibs branded with the Mormon Helping Hands logo, an enthusiastic team of about 90 men, women and children from Church of Latter-Day Saints spread across a section of the cemetery.

Armed with weedeaters, shovels, rakes, spades and wheelbarrows, they got stuck in and filled multiple black bags with weeds and grass cuttings.

This is the fifth time this year the church has mounted a clean-up operation at the sprawling cemetery, which it has divided into chunks.

“This is a work-in-progress and every time we come here, we do another section. At least now you can see the graves,” the bishop of East London’s first ward of the church Jarom Wainwright said.

“We hope to do this for the next few years.”

Wielding a weedeater and cutting swathes through the overgrown graveyard, Wainwright explained the church felt a responsibility to East London.

“Some of these graves go back to the 1800s and I’m sure the majority of East Londoners have some tie to this cemetery, so if we can help them pay respects to their loved ones, we are glad, especially since many people don’t feel it is safe to come here.”

He said the church placed a lot of emphasis on the dead.

“This is because family is important to us and we do a lot of genealogical work researching family history.”

Wainwright said Saturday’s clean-up had extra significance because it was part of a wider Mormon initiative in which congregations in the south-east of Africa were performing community service deeds on the same day.

“They are helping children’s homes or cleaning up community halls as the theme this year is ‘Hand in Hand with Local Government’.”

Church member Sue-Ann Krull, who was plucking stubborn weeds from graves, said she had been deeply moved when she finally located the graves of her grandparents who died in the 90s.

“Every time we have come to clean here I have looked for their graves and today I found them, so I cleared the grass and polished the headstone.”

For Shaun Thornhill working at the cemetery also involved a personal element.

“My baby brother Jason is buried in the children’s section and I got to clean his grave. I look at all these graves and see familiar surnames and wonder if they are family of people I know.”

Nonhlanhla Canham said it was easier for her to weed an older person’s grave.

“When we cleared the children’s graves it was tough. I have children so it touched me.” — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

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