Spotlight on Durban cemeteries

The building at the entrance to Hime Road Cemetery has been burnt and the City is seeking permission to have it demolished.

RESPONDING to a slew of complaints regarding the state of local cemetries, eThekwini Municipality says its staff is working to get cemetries up to standard and safe spaces for the public. This follows a recent article in Berea Mail highlighting the issues at Stellawood Cemetery where an abandoned building has become derelict, the grounds are littered and overgrown, vandalism is evident and damage left by the October 2017 storm has still not been repaired.

A site visit to the West Street Cemetery and Hime Road Cemetery also showed similar issues.

Stellawood Cemetery

Since the initial article, Councillor Mmbatho Tembe said dumped waste had been cleared but that the vandalised light poles were still lying on the roadway inside the cemetery surrounded by broken glass. “It is evident that mainenance has been done on the lower section of the cemetery close to the mian entrance on Stellawood Road,” she said. However, Tembe said the boundary wall that had suffered stom damage had still not been fixed and she was not aware of any plans the city may have for the abandoned building. She said it seemed that someone was now living in the building. “I have been apporached by youths in the community who said they were interested in utilising the building as an office, however I believe the building needs to be fixed first and should be used by the Parks Department.”

Commenting on the state of Stellawood cemetery residents had this to say:

Shelly Bee said the map in the office was so old that it didn’t include the new area at the rear of the cemetery grounds, neither did it show new areas listed south of the crematorium. “The map is also only accessible when the office is open,” she said, adding that section markers and grave numbers were missing or buried in overgrown vegetation.

“Headstones are broken throughout the cemetery, there are hidden holes in the grass between graves and an ant infestation. Record books are in a shocking condition and are not computerised. Only “old” records on the computer are from a database created by a headstone recording project so they don’t include all burials,” she said.

Kathi Smuts said: “It’s disgusting. I have relatives ‘resting’ there but the state of the cemetery leads me to believe that rather than resting, my relatives are turning in their graves.”

Teresa de Azevedo said: “What maintenance? We wash the graves, pick up old flowers because of no bins and I have been doing this for the last 19 years. Certain parts of Stellawood look perfect like the entrance, but take a good look elsewhere and it is a dump. The main office is poorly run and there is no one there when you need them, especially when it is meant to be open!”

ALSO READ: Call for more maintenance at Stellawood Cemetery

Tembe said she would again communicate with the head of Parks, Thembinkosi Ngcobo and ask for intervention.

Durban Central/West Street Cemetery

An inspection of the West Street cemetery revealed the grounds are maintained although the buildings on the property are severely damaged.

Councillor Nicole Graham, who visited the cemetery said it was regularly mowed and kept neat. “I think security is a challenge due to its location and the CBD’s drug and vagrancy problems. I will be following up with officials as to when these buildings are expected to be repaired,” she said.

Shelly Bee said the West Street cemetery had the same records issue as Stellawood and there were problems with unmarked sections and grave numbers. “The road to get to the cemetery entrance is lined with taxis and often blocked and it’s the only cemetery I’ve ever heard of that hires a security company to man the gates.”

Hime Road Cemetery

At Hime Road Cemetery which is located near Umgeni Road vagrants and illegal squatters have moved onto the derelict property which is littered with rubbish and signs of fireplaces. Residents have called for an old building at the entrance of the cemetery on Umgeni Road to be sealed or demolished. Security is also an issue and there is no boundary fence to prevent people for accessing the grounds.

According to councillor Martin Meyer this is one of the older cemeteries in the city with graves from the turn of the previous century. “Because of the age of some of the graves, no one really visits the cemetery and there seems to be no impetus to maintain it,” he said.

According to the councillor, a mausoleum in the centre of the cemetery had been bricked up after it was discovered people had been living inside it and part of the roof was damaged. “The building at the entrance on Umgeni Road, which appears to be an old chapel, has been destroyed by fire. The municipality has sought permission to pull it down, as it has heritage status,” he said.

“Vagrants live on the grounds as it is close to Umgeni Road and the railway lines, but security is a concern for residents living in homes surrounding the cemetery. The City is looking into fencing and a new gate as the original one has been stolen but there doesn’t seem to be any interest in hiring security as there are no new visitors to the cemetery,” he said.

City responds

Denese Imam from eThekwini Municipality said the maintenance in the three mentioned cemeteries were presently on par.

“We have staff, co-ops and Parks Department on site and we have been working since months back getting the cemeteries to standard to ensure the public are safe when visiting family grave sites. We have security on site and our cemeteries are clean and tidy. We are presently also working with Umgeni Road cemetery to have trees trimmed and fencing repaired. Central Durban which is known as West Street Cemetery has always been clean and safe for the public to visit and there are staff that maintain the cemetery every day. We have security on site as well,” she said.

 

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  AUTHOR
Lauren Walford
Journalist

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