Cape Town - Ocean-front apartments now stand on the site of an apartheid-era cemetery for coloured residents - and it’s unclear how many graves were desecrated to build the luxury development.
The city has admitted that the burial ground in Gordon’s Bay was probably sold to make way for the upmarket Harbour Island apartments. Properties there sell for up to R18 million.
This comes after a city-ordered forensic investigation, which was launched in 2009. Construction at the site started in 2004. Realty Dynamix were the developers.
Mayor Patricia de Lille revealed the outcome of this investigation in a council meeting on Wednesday. She responded in writing to questions from ANC councillor Nomawethu Ndzulwana.
Now the city is appealing to anyone who has more information to back up these claims to report it. And this could lead to criminal charges against those implicated in desecrating the graves.
During apartheid, the Gordon’s Bay cemetery was divided along racial lines.
“Members of the coloured community claimed that the portion [in which] their relatives were buried was sold and developed as Harbour Island.
“They further claim that the remains of their relatives were secretly removed by the property developer,” wrote De Lille.
ENS Forensics investigated the claims and established that part of the land sold had formed part of the cemetery.
“There is no definitive evidence that burials took place… However, anecdotal evidence… suggests that burials did indeed take place on the property until about 1970.”
The investigation found the rezoning of the land had started in 1992. However, notices sent to residents in the area gave only the erf numbers. They were not specifically told that the cemetery would be affected.
No measures were taken to “ensure the integrity of the graves” when it was cleared in 1992. The company, Mega Mix Concrete, then set up a steel structure from where they manufactured cement blocks.
“Precautionary measures were again not taken in 2004 by the developers of Harbour Island either, when the excavations were done.
“In addition, the developer did not comply with the provisions of the National Heritage Resource Act that required a permit and an archaeologist on site at the time of excavation.”
As the developer or its agents had enough evidence to prove the area was a burial ground, it should have obtained a permit from a national or provincial heritage authority.