Unkempt graveyards have fallen into disrepair, attracting criminals

No respect for city’s cemeteries

East Londoners are too scared to visit city cemeteries to pay respect to their loved ones’ graves.

That’s the shocking reality for residents as many graveyards fall increasingly into a state of disrepair and attract criminal elements.

At some graveyards, people are even being buried close to pavements because fencing bordering the cemetery has been stolen.

Complaints have been flooding social media pages about overgrown graveyards, some so unkempt that even locating a loved one’s tombstone is a nightmare.

In its 2018-19 integrated development plan review, BCM concedes that it has a number of challenges in respect of cemeteries and crematoriums.

These include a lack of suitable land for the development of cemeteries, rapid urbanisation and a high mortality rate.

Other issues include a lack of uniform by-laws, poor access roads, insufficient and aged vehicles, a lack of funding and resources, especially for maintenance, and criminal activities at many cemeteries.

One resident, Quinton Barry Randall, said his mother and father were buried at Cambridge Cemetery but he was “too scared” to go there.

Resident Joan Crafford was assisting family visiting from the US who wanted to draw up their family tree from those buried at Cambridge Cemetery. Locating one of the graves, they found it overgrown and when this was pointed out to a worker, he then cut a “strip” only around that particular site, Crafford said.

“It’s so sad to travel from the USA then you can’t find your mom’s grave.”

Dot Kraemer’s daughter is also buried at Cambridge, and she is also fearful of attacks by criminals.

I can’t even go visit her site as well as grandparents. It’s not on and so unfair. And zero gets done about it
Dot Kraemer

“I can’t even go visit her site as well as grandparents. It’s not on and so unfair. And zero gets done about it.”

Dee Blom told the Dispatch she was “in the same boat” when it came to Cambridge Cemetery.

“I can’t visit my husband’s either. It’s not safe. It’s devastating for all of us who have lost loved ones.”

However, police spokesperson Captain Mluleki Mbi said police had been patrolling the area more regularly, with the result that crimes such as robberies and mugging were down in the area.

Buffalo Flats resident Giovanni Redcliffe is appalled at the condition of his local cemetery.

“The fence was even stolen recently, and to make matters worse, people are starting to be buried close to the pavement,” he said,

Redcliffe’s family are even taking along weed-eaters themselves to clear a loved one’s grave every week.

Something else we’ve noticed in that people are coming in from other areas to bury their family at Buffalo Flats
Buffalo Flats resident Giovanni Redcliffe

“Something else we’ve noticed in that people are coming in from other areas to bury their family at Buffalo Flats,” he said.

Malcom Symons, chairperson of the Beacon Bay Ratepayer’s Association, said it had come to the point where he was too afraid to visit his late mother’s grave at East Cemetery.

“It is fair to say that many Beacon Bay residents are not at all happy with the state of our graveyards,” he said.

About five years ago, East London private contractor John Roach was commissioned by the municipality to spray grasses at cemeteries with herbicide, so that they would not become overgrown.

“There were some complaints from the public that the cemeteries were looking bare after the spraying, but the system did work.

“I have been spraying the old cemetery in Queenstown [Komani] and the residents seem very happy with it,” Roach said. “Spraying is probably the most effective [solution].”

Ward 4 councillor Tessa Botha said BCM should outsource the clearing of cemeteries because the current system was failing. “The other issue is that we are running out of burial space. Perhaps the time has come where we go into communities to encourage residents to go the cremation route.”

BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya failed to respond to questions sent to his office more than a week ago.

The Dispatch visited six local cemeteries to ascertain the extent of the problem.

Cambridge

In southern and eastern parts of Cambridge Cemetery, tall grass and weeds choke tombstones and the walkways between.

Oddly, the upper or northern reaches of the graveyard are kept relatively tidy.

On one of the larger graves, a huge tree branch sprawled across the entire memorial, seemingly of no concern to anyone except the loved ones of the person lying there.

Pallisade fencing has also been broken in several areas.

Mtsotso cemetery

Struggle icons Jeff Wabena and Francis Meli are buried at Mdantsane’s Mtsotso Cemetery, but towering weeds show scant respect for the fallen.

Plots that have been demarcated for generations of family members are going to seed as grass twists and winds its way into every crevice, weakening the structures of the tombstones, some of which would have cost a lot of money.

There is clearly a lack of maintenance at this cemetery.

Haven Hills

This was one of the most overgrown cemeteries visited by the Dispatch.

In what has been a comparatively dry summer, a lush meadow in a suburban area would be a welcome sight, but not if it is a graveyard.

Tombstones at Haven Hills Cemetery are almost completely covered by weeds and grass.

In an area near Fath Road, a cross was so deeply submerged that the thick blades of grass had to be parted to find it.

Buffalo Flats

On the eastern side of the graveyard, while grass is long, the tombstones are still fairly visible and some pathways give easy access.

However, clumps of litter do make this cemetery unsightly.

The western side is far worse. Here, a small tree was even growing around a once-proud tribute to a beloved family member.

There was no fencing at the cemetery.

King William’s Town

This is one of the better cemeteries visited. Only the odd tuft of wayward foliage spoils the cemetery, which for the most part is well-maintained with clear, user-friendly walkways.

It is clear friends and family are regular visitors to departed loved ones, as the grave sites are kept clean and flowers are freshly laid.

West Bank

With its sweeping views of the ocean and buck milling happily on the golf course, the West Bank graveyard is well- maintained and bursting with colour thanks to recently-laid flowers and wreaths.

The walkways were slightly overgrown, but not in any way as to hinder family members paying respects.

johnh@dispatch.co.za

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