The Saturday Star visited Ermelo and found that 53 graves had been relocated to a cemetery on the outskirts of the town.
“In Loving Memory of: Camden Power Station Graves”, placards placed on the dirt graves read. Eskom’s media relations department said: “Graves were removed because they were within the vicinity/footprint of the construction area for the new ash dam” at the power station.
Instead of the names of the deceased, the placards are numbered, and Eskom said that a “heritage specialist” could help family members identify which numbered grave belongs to their relatives.
However, the site visit revealed that some of the graves have duplicate numbers, meaning they cannot be differentiated. Eskom admitted that there “should be no duplication” and that “we need to investigate that”.
Members of the Khuthala Environmental Care Group, a civil society organisation in Ermelo, discovered the relocation, which began in late 2015 and seemed to be completed in early 2016.
“The families need to know where their loved ones are,” Zethu Hlatshwayo, Khuthala’s spokesman, said.
The South African Heri- tage Resources Agency was involved in the reburial but did not respond to requests for comment.
The company that completed the exhumation and reburial, the Bela-Bela branch of Botswana Funeral Services Group, also declined to comment.
Eskom’s statement said that attempts were made to find the relevant families through announcements in local media outlets.
Hlatshwayo said that some, if not all, of the advertisements went out in an Afrikaans- language newspaper and radio station, not in a language spoken by the relevant communities. “We felt that they didn’t try to find the correct people,” Hlatshwayo said.
Vincent Mashinini, Khuthala’s coal campaigner, argued Eskom and the farmer on whose land Eskom expanded the Camden operation made minimal effort to find families in an attempt to avoid paying the costs associated with reburial rituals.
“As a black man, there are rituals and customs that must be performed when reburying someone, especially one of your family members. In fact, it’s compulsory to be there so in the future you can identify their graves,” Mashinini said.
In addition to not paying family members, Hlatshwayo alleged that the mass burial disrespected the deceased.
“The coffins, they were this size,” Hlatshwayo said, holding his arms a metre apart. “It was not a dignified funeral.”