Rocky Naidoo in front of the informal settlement. The land was previously used as a cemetery. Picture: Supplied
Rocky Naidoo in front of the informal settlement. The land was previously used as a cemetery. Picture: Supplied

'Reopen cemetery to create burial space'

By Charlene Somduth Time of article published Jul 24, 2020

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Durban - AS the death toll from Covid-19 infections rises, Durban residents whose loved ones were buried at an 81-year-old cemetery in Seaview want it reopened to create burial space.

eThekwini Municipality has been trying to secure additional burial space since 2018.

Now, as South Africa prepares for the virus to peak, the city needs 15 000 grave sites by September. The death toll is projected to be over 40000.

Of the 66 cemeteries in the city, 57 are closed because there are no sites available for burial. Only nine cemeteries have burial space.

Authorities have been lobbying for cremations, but these remain unpopular in some communities. Even then, there are only six crematoria in the city, four of which are privately owned.

The need for additional burial space was recently re-emphasised by the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa.

Muzi Hlengwa, the association’s president, recently told the POST: “I fear this thing of mass graves.”

Some residents in Durban have suggested the city reopen the cemetery in Seaview but the land is being used for informal housing.

In 1939, the then Durban Corporation approved the opening of the cemetery to service residents in Seaview, Hillary, Bellair and Mount Vernon.

A board of trustees was nominated to run the cemetery and a temple was also erected on the property.

Despite being a Hindu cemetery, it also served the Christian community.

But due to the Group Areas Act, in 1969 families had to leave the area as well as the remains of loved ones. They were not allowed to go to the cemetery or to the temple.

In 1994, with the advent of democracy, the former residents tried to regain access to the cemetery but they were unsuccessful. In 2000, informal dwellers began building homes on the land.

Today, more than 50 families are living in wood and tin homes - without electricity, water and proper sanitation - on the land estimated to be about 5000m2.

Rocky Naidoo, a resident and retired councillor, said he had been trying for many years to have the informal dwellers relocated and the cemetery reopened.

“When apartheid ended, residents tried to reclaim the land but were unsuccessful. The city was not interested in assisting them. The families and children from the informal settlement are living under inhumane conditions.

“The land is not conducive to informal housing. They don’t have water, electricity or toilets. Their homes are built out of tin and iron on old graves.

“For the families of the deceased, this is heartbreaking and a violation of their rights. I grew up in the area. My grandfather is buried in that cemetery. We were relocated to Unit 7 in Chatsworth, and were not allowed to visit the grave.

“Emotionally, it was difficult knowing we could not do simple things like place flowers on my grandfather’s grave. This was the reality for many families.”

He said under apartheid the cemetery and temple were left in ruins.

“The temple is still there. You can see it. I have written to eThekwini Municipality on numerous occasions, as a councillor and as a resident, asking them to relocate the informal dwellers and reopen the cemetery. They seem to just ignore me. With Covid-19, we are hitting a crisis with deaths. There is a shortage of burial space.”

Naidoo said the cemetery could ease the pressure of the shortage.

Victor Mannie, a former resident now living in Australia, said his sister was buried at the cemetery.

“She was 11 months old when she died of pneumonia. We were also relocated to Chatsworth. We were given a home in Unit 1. It was a traumatising time for us because we were not allowed back to the grave site.”

Mannie, 78, a retired businessman, said he emigrated 40 years ago.

“During one of my trips to Durban, I went to Seaview to try and get to her grave site. I wanted to have a tombstone erected in her honour. But the entire area was run down. I was not even sure where her grave was.”

Mannie said it was hard to believe that it was in that condition.

“It was disheartening. I am 100% behind the reopening.”

Danny Naicker, 78, a former resident, said his grandparents and sister were buried at the cemetery.

“I grew up in the area but relocated to Kharwastan. It was hard to leave those grave sites behind but we had no choice.

“It was customary to visit the grave sites on birthdays and special occasions, but we were not allowed to do this. It was a painful time for us. To later find out that people were living on land that had our relatives’ remains added to the pain.”

Naicker, a human resources manager, agreed the cemetery should be reopened.

“Our country is going through a difficult period. If the death toll for Covid-19 gets worse, and it will, cremations will not be enough - especially with Mobeni Heights Crematorium not being functional.

“We need additional burial space. Those people living on that land need proper housing. It is their human right.”

S’bu Zikode, from Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shack dwellers’ movement, said they supported the former residents’ call to have the cemetery reopened.

“We need to respect that the cemetery forms part of the residents’ heritage. It will assist with our current burial space issues.”

Zikode said while the organisation did not represent the shack dwellers it was prepared to meet them and inform them of their rights to proper housing, water, electricity and ablution facilities.

eThekwini Municipality had not commented by the time of publication.

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