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‘Unused cemetery cost R55m’

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“We have documentary evidence which we will present to the committee. We did not have this evidence in the past to make a case but now we do”

SITE VISIT: DA provincial leader Andrew Louw speaks to community members during a site visit to Phuthanang Cemetery yesterday, where close to 100 illegal shacks have been erected on the land and not a single grave has been dug after 10 years. Picture: Soraya Crowie

KIMBERLEY’S Phuthanang Cemetery, which after 10 years has still not seen a single grave dug, allegedly cost the city more than R50 million to develop.

Yesterday, during an oversight visit to the graveyard, close to a hundred illegal shacks were seen on the site of the proposed cemetery, which was supposed to address the lack of available grave space in Kimberley.

The oversight visit was conducted by the DA in the northern Cape.

The party said during the visit that it will investigate the millions of rand allocated for the development of the unused cemetery.

The DA also met with several community members who are currently occupying the land.

The party made it clear to the community members that they are merely investigating the alleged misuse of the funds allocated to the project.

The party’s Sol Plaatje caucus leader, Christopher Phiri, stated that the DA was in possession of evidence pointing out that more than R50 million was allocated to the project that was never completed.

“While previous media reports have indicated that R1 million was allocated to the Phuthanang Cemetery project, the DA is in possession of information that points to as much as R55 million from the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) having been allocated to the said project. On top of the astronomical funding, there was also the subsequent appointment of a dubious cemetery manager, who was appointed by the controversial director of corporate services and former acting municipal manager, Ruth Sebolecwe,” said Phiri.

He went on to say that Sol Plaatje Municipality had over the years stated that the project has fallen victim to vandalism.

“At a recent oversight inspection conducted by councillors and municipal officials, it was stated that the property was enclosed at some point in time but that the devil’s fork fencing was stolen. Surely, with R55 million and plenty of time, security measures could have been implemented? This, in turn, would also have mitigated the risks of animals trampling the future graves, and of illegal shacks being erected on the land in question, as previously raised by Sol Plaatje.”

Phiri pointed out that grave space was a burning issue in Kimberley, with only a handful of graves still available at the city’s cemeteries, but the municipality is dragging its feet in addressing the matter.

“As far back as 2010, it already came to light that cemeteries were either totally full or nearing their total capacity. In the same year, it was stated that the Phuthanang Cemetery would be opened by December 1, 2010, alleviating capacity concerns related to local burial grounds. However, it is nine years later and Sol Plaatje is not any closer to opening the graveyard,” he said.

DA provincial leader Andrew Louw said that the party had already gathered information on the alleged misuse of funds for the project and would request a response from the municipality during a committee meeting.

“We have documentary evidence which we will present to the committee. We did not have this evidence in the past to make a case but now we do,” said Louw.

He added that they would lay criminal charges against those who are responsible for the alleged mismanagement. “We will give the file and information to the Hawks for further investigation. With this information we can now go to court.”

Louw assured the community members who had put up shacks on the land that the DA did not have an issue with them.

“When people erect shanties it becomes a municipal problem. It is clear that the municipality did not conduct a study to see whether the land is appropriate for use as a cemetery. We heard that one cannot even dig a metre-deep hole and water flows. We cannot blame the community for making the area a residential area,” he said.

It was reported earlier this year that Kimberley is facing a major crisis with only a handful of graves still available to bury the dead.

The West End Cemetery, according to the municipality at the time, only had space for an estimated 10 more “straight burials”, although the reopening of existing graves (for burial on top of a family member) was still available.

Galeshewe’s ABC Cemetery was reported to be full already with only the reopening of existing graves available, while Roodepan Cemetery also only had a very limited number of graves still available.

The Kenilworth Cemetery has essentially become a no-go area due to the illegal alluvial diamond digging taking place there.

The issue has been a serious concern for several years and in 2010 already the city council was informed by officials that the cemeteries in Kimberley were either totally full or nearing capacity.

It was stated at the time that the ABC Cemetery in Galeshewe, the Pioneer Cemetery and the Gladstone Cemetery were already full, while the West End Cemetery, Roodepan and Greenpoint were 98% full.

Some space was opened up at West End Cemetery by using ground that was previously considered inappropriate because of hard rock.

The warning has been repeated several times over the years, and again in the 2017/18 Annual Report, where it was stated that existing cemeteries were full to capacity.

The situation has, however, now reached critical proportions.

According to Sol Plaatje’s 2017/18 annual report, the Phuthanang Cemetery was developed for burials to relieve the situation. “However, the conditions at the Phuthanang Cemetery cannot allow the community to use the cemetery as a result of the fence that has been stolen, animals roaming around, the continual leakage of sewage, vandalism of the office while the infrastructure of roads is inadequate,” the report stated.

The cemetery also only has one entry point, affecting the traffic flow. Parking was also not considered.

Municipal spokesperson Sello Matsie, responding to the DA’s claims yesterday, said that the amount spent on the project was exaggerated by the party.

“A new cemetery was planned in Phuthanang for the city. A fence, roads and an office building were constructed, which were later vandalised and the fence stolen. Criminal cases were registered on the theft of the fence and only portions were returned to the municipality recently after decisions not to prosecute,” said Matsie.

“Attempts were made just a few weeks ago to start a process of burying people at the cemetery – because most of our cemeteries have reached full capacity. Unfortunately, the same place was invaded with shacks and this is exactly why we are opposed to haphazard land grabs because they sometimes impede other projects. We have approached the court and have had meetings with the affected parties, but to no avail.

“We are just as surprised at the figure being mentioned as having been spent for the construction of the cemetery, because our own records and future plans do not amount to that figure by far.

“We advise that, because we are very much opposed to any misconduct, the law enforcement agencies must be approached as soon as possible so that we protect the ratepayers from any misuse of funds, as alleged. But the allegations are without basis,” Matsie concluded.