“No one has ever come to meet with us to try and work out a solution. The first shack was erected on July 9 and now, two months later, we received notices to evict."

Picture: Soraya Crowie

PERSONS occupying Phutanang Cemetery will be opposing an eviction order that seeks to remove them and demolish their shacks by September 29 and relocate them to Ivory Park transit camp.

Local funeral undertakers are refusing to conduct burials at Phutanang and Kenilworth cemeteries – the only two cemeteries in the city that still has available grave space – until all the shacks and illegal miners have been removed.

Court notices were dropped off at the cemetery gates yesterday, although the residents stated that there were not enough copies to go around.

Community leader Nelson Molale said that the number of shacks had grown to around 231 and were still increasing.

“No one has ever come to meet with us to try and work out a solution. The first shack was erected on July 9 and now, two months later, we received notices to evict. We are currently consulting with our advocate,” said Molale yesterday.

Sol Plaatje Municipality, in its application, said it realised that this situation could erupt into a “full-blown health crisis”.

“Most of the funeral parlours in Kimberley do not have back-up electricity systems in place. Any interruptions will have a disastrous effect. This will dramatically increase the possibility of serious diseases like hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis, cholera, etc. Kimberley will have to resort to keeping and storing bodies of their deceased relatives on their own. With the summer heat quickly approaching, it will have a serious effect on emergency services, hospitals and disaster management. Funerals are an extremely sensitive issue with the dignity of the deceased as well as the trauma of the grieving family that have serious repercussions.”

It reported that ABC Cemetery could only be used for “reopenings” to bury life partners in the same grave.

Ramatshela Cemetery is fully occupied, where water is seeping into the graves due to the high water table, and Roodepan Cemetery is full to capacity.

Greenpoint Cemetery also has a high water table as a result of water draining into the graveyard due to mining activities.

Only persons of the Jewish faith may be buried at the Jewish Cemetery, while West End Cemetery is quickly running out of space.

The chief of parks and recreation at Sol Plaatje Municipality, Tumelo Maropong, in court papers, stated that the unlawful occupiers at Phutanang Cemetery were “derailing the entire funeral industry in Kimberley”.

“There are on average 60 funerals in Kimberley per week. Funeral parlours will have to take in additional bodies while not being able to bury existing bodies stored in cold storage facilities. As a result, Kimberley will literally run out of available storage space within a week or two. Funerals have almost come to a standstill.”

Maropong indicated that surrounding towns also did not have facilities to handle large volumes of deceased from Kimberley.

“It is therefore imperative to resolve the situation as urgently as possible.”

He stated that while there were over 200 shacks erected at the
R12 million Phutanang Cemetery, the majority were vacant.

Maropong said the cemetery was completed and handed over in 2015. “Phutanang Cemetery was not immediately put into operation as the municipality was waiting for the other cemeteries to be filled closer to capacity. The cemetery was fenced off but at the time of the handover about half of the fence had already been stolen The remaining portion of the fence was stolen before the end of 2015.

“Phutanang Cemetery has a planned section for Muslim burials, although it is not operational yet.”

He added that the vegetation was cleared in July 2019 in preparation for the utilisation of the cemetery. “At a site inspection on July 12 there were no occupiers at Phutanang Cemetery and no risk of the land being invaded.”

He stated that a court order was obtained in May to interdict land invasions in all areas situated in the municipal district.

“Security staff demolished some of the partially completed structures on August 6.”

Residents erected more structures on the site and barricaded the road leading into the cemetery with burning tyres in protest against the demolitions.

Maropong dismissed claims that the graves would be damaged by water that was seeping through the ground at Phutanang Cemetery.

He pointed out that the municipality could be held liable for civil claims or could face a barrage of protests if it was not in a position to ensure safe and unhindered burials.

He made a commitment that the municipality would provide communal taps and chemical toilets for the residents and clear the vegetation at Ivory Park transit camp.