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50 graves vandalised

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Several headstones had been pushed over and many of them have been damaged as a result.

DESECRATED: Approximately 50 graves were vandalised at the West End cemetery over the weekend. Picture: Soraya Crowie

A CRIMINAL case has been opened after around 50 graves at the city’s West End Cemetery were vandalised over the weekend.

Sol Plaatje Municipality spokesperson, Sello Matsie, said yesterday that several headstones had been pushed over and many of them have been damaged as a result.

At one grave it appears that one half of a marble slab covering a double grave has been stolen, while a wooden plank has been wedged under the remaining slab in an apparent attempt to lift the slab.

According to Matsie the damage caused is estimated to be around R500 000.

While the West End Cemetery, as well as other cemeteries in Kimberley, including the Roodepan and ABC cemeteries, have often been the target of vandals, this latest incident is believed to have taken place over the past weekend and graves close to the Findlayson Road side of the cemetery (gate 6) were targeted.

While the gates of the cemetery are locked at night and there is a wall around the perimeter, large sections of the wall are missing.

“Apart from the human emotions, where people have gone to great lengths to remember their loved ones by erecting tombstones, what is happening here, where graves are vandalised and damaged for seemingly no reason, is very shameful,” Matsie said.

He added that considering that one tombstone cost around R10 000, the damage caused would amount to hundreds of thousands of rand.

“The policing of a graveyard is very difficult, although the police and our own security officers do patrol the cemeteries,” Matsie said. “Therefore we rely on the community to be our eyes and ears. If anyone witnesses someone vandalising graves or being in the area when there is no reason for them to be there, we urge them to report it.”

He added that in terms of the municipal by-laws, the municipality had no obligation to maintain grave sites. “Therefore we appeal to members of the public who have loved ones buried in this section to check on the graves and to repair them if they are among those damaged.”

Meanwhile, Matsie confirmed that the Phutanang Cemetery, built at a cost of R1 million and which was scheduled to open in 2015, has still not been utilised.

Despite access roads within the cemetery grounds being developed and paved, as well as the perimeter fence being erected, the Sol Plaatje City Council has still not decided whether to use the cemetery or to build a new one.

According to insiders, invitations have twice been sent out for the official opening of the cemetery, however, this has never materialised and discussions are now under way on whether the ground should be used instead for housing development.

At the time when it was expected to open, it was reported that the cemetery would service the city’s needs for the next 25 years.

The cemetery, which took about two years to complete, is 34 hectares in size and cost more than R1 million. “It has five mast lights and an ablution facility. There is also a tarred access road leading into the facility,” Matsie said at the time.

A visit to the site three years ago revealed that, apart from the ablution facilities, the “cemetery” was nothing more than a cleared piece of veld, with not a single tree, bush or blade of grass.

The facility was expected to relieve the current pressure on other cemeteries in the city. “This cemetery will reduce pressure on the West End, Roodepan and Galeshewe cemeteries. The Roodepan Cemetery is almost full and we had to resort to reburials in order to save space,” Matsie stated at the time.

Meanwhile, a report by the Sol Plaatje Municipality has already indicated several issues at the Phutanang Cemetery, including vandalism of the fence (around the administration office) and a break-in at the office. “The sanitation and stormwater drainage system is also problematic, where raw sewage and stormwater flow from the nearby settlement and dam up in the yard.”

According to the report, the cemetery has only one entry point, which is going to interfere with traffic flow. Parking was also not considered.

Currently it has become a dumping site for rubbish, while raw sewage flows freely through the area.