Johannesburg - Twice a year the Chinese community visit the Brixton cemetery to perform a ceremony to honour the ancestors.
But safety has become a concern for the community at this Joburg cemetery.
“I was disgusted and scared,” said Walter Pon, who visited the cemetery last month as part of the ceremony of Pai Fai, which involves laying flowers on graves.
“When I got there, vagrants had strung washing between the tombstones, they appear to be living there.
"We just placed the flowers on the first tombstone and disappeared as fast as we could.”
Pon wrote a letter to the Chinese Association Gauteng to see if it could come up with a solution.
“It’s tough. We’ve been talking to the council and they have put up a fence around the cemetery.
"However, it’s been stolen three times,” said Dr Varina Woon, who is a member of the association that has been tasked with finding a solution.
One of the suggestions was to fence off the Chinese section of the cemetery, but Professor Kathy Munroe, of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, believes it’s a bad idea.
“You can’t close off sections of the cemetery, as we have an appalling history of dividing people even in death,” she explained.
What is of concern to Munroe is the vandalism that has occurred in the cemetery.
Joburg’s older cemeteries, she said, were an important part of the city’s heritage.
They added to the individual stories of some the city's pioneering citizens.
The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was collecting a registry of some of the more important graves in the cemetery.
When Munroe visited the Brixton cemetery, she found even funerary stone vases had been upended and turned into seating for braais.
Bronze plaques have been stolen. Woon said that the Chinese Association Gauteng has looked at possibly repairing tombstones, but the price was too expensive.
“At the moment we’re looking at perhaps hiring a garden service over the actual time of the ceremony, and use extra security,” added Woon.
Jenny Moodley, spokesperson for Joburg City Parks, said security at the cemeteries needed to be beefed up, but City Parks didn’t have the resources.
The Brixton cemetery has security at its entrance but vagrants are slipping through the fence.
Sections of the cemetery's fencing have also been stolen.
Joburg metro police were investigating the theft and patrolling the area.
“We’re appealing to the community to help reclaim Brixton cemetery, and help us put in place proper safety measures,” Moodley said.
City Parks is having a clean-up of the cemetery next Saturday at 10am, and has invited the community to come and assist.
A meeting was also planned on the day and Moodley said the community was welcome to raise issues around the cemetery.
In August, when Pai Fa next comes around, Pon said that he would be back to perform his duty of honouring his ancestors.
“I will go, but with armed guards,” he added.
The Saturday Star