Genealogist Loraine Bruigom of Margate gushed when she found the graves of her great-grandparents at the oThongathi cemetery recently. Graves help the housewife piece together the branches of her family tree, and she feels their reuse could wipe away her past. Pictures: Puri Devjee

Durban - An eThekwini plan to recycle graves is threatening a Margate woman’s quest to trace her genealogy.

Loraine Bruigom, of Margate, recently visited a family plot in the oThongathi (Tongaat) cemetery where some of her relatives are buried.

Two of the graves do not have headstones and could be in line for reuse.

According to eThekwini Municipality’s head of parks, recreation and culture, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, only one objection to the reuse of a grave at the oThongathi Cemetery was received.

Last year, the municipality announced that oThongathi and Verulam had reached capacity to provide new graves.

Families were given until September 30 last year to apply for 10-year leases to retain the rights to reuse or reserve a grave from future use.

Bruigom said neither she nor other family members saw the notice and therefore missed the deadline.

“Cemeteries are supposed to have record books of the graves and family contacts; no one sent us letters.”

Ngcobo said contacting individual families would have been an impossible task and regulations allow them to notify families by placing adverts in newspapers, which they did.

Bruigom could not hide her emotion when she saw the headstone of her great-grandfather, Gabriel Johannes Ellse, a prisoner of war who was born in 1885, and alongside him, his wife, Hester Maria Susanna Ellse, and two of their children. Next to these are two graves with no headstones and no way of tracing who they are.

Such graves, said Ngcobo, were up for reuse.

He said this was being done nationally in an effort to cope with the scarcity of suitable land for burials.

“The challenge of finding suitable land is growing and it will become extremely difficult as populations grow. Populations that utilise burials as a practice will be compelled to consider alternatives, including cremation…” he said.

Recognising this, Bruigom and her family have decided they will be cremated.

But she believes the municipality did not make enough of an effort to notify families of possible reuse.

Although the deadline has passed, Ngcobo encouraged families to notify the unit as soon as possible if they wished to lease graves.

A 10-year lease costs R770. While space adjacent to the existing graves is being used, preserving about 500 graves from reuse for the time being, the threat remains.

“These graves are of historical importance, the municipality can’t just reuse them without notifying family members,” Bruigom said.

But Ngcobo said historical graves were clearly defined.

“Only graves that are the results of conflicts or of national importance or over 60 years and outside of local municipal cemeteries are considered protected, and will require approval by the South African Heritage Resources Agency before being reused.”

In the absence of a lease or objection, the only other exclusion to reuse is a negative environmental impact.

The impact on Bruigom’s quest is priceless. The housewife developed an interest in genealogy five years ago to occupy herself while her husband worked in Sierra Leone.

It has developed into a passion and her trips to national history archives, libraries and cemeteries like oThongathi have become a family affair.

Daily News