The cemetery in Merebank
The cemetery in Merebank

Families struggle to find gravesites

By Charlene Somduth Time of article published Apr 9, 2021

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Durban - Families who have loved ones buried at cemeteries in Merebank have accused the city of not doing enough to maintain the graveyard.

Preston Naidoo, 40, of Merebank, said his mother, Brenda, was buried at the Merebank Cemetery. She died in 2016, aged 55, after a stroke.

“I visited her gravesite on March 21 last year to mark her 59th birthday. I was unable to return during the course of the year due to the lockdown and the Covid-19 restrictions. But I went this month for her 60th birthday.

“As we drove into the cemetery, I was shocked. It was in such a terrible condition. The grass reached my knees and because my mother's grave does not have a tombstone, I could not easily find it. I just remembered the row in which she was buried.

“While we were looking, we walked over other gravesites that were hidden by the grass. When we located my mom’s grave, the grass had already grown over the cross that we placed on her gravesite. We had to remove the grass and the weeds.”

Naidoo, who is self-employed, said the family paid the municipality R2 745 in 2016 for a 10-year lease.

“This is our family plot. My grandmother is also buried here. As per our Christian faith, we believe in burying those who have passed on.

“The least the municipality could do was trim the grass. I didn't even know whether or not there were snakes or rodents around.”

He said vagrants had set up makeshift tents in the cemetery.

“I wanted to complain to management but there were no officials on duty. I am angry and frustrated. This is supposed to be my mom’s final resting place. It is supposed to be tranquil and beautiful but it is the opposite. It is dangerous and unkempt. The maintenance is being neglected and those buried here are being disrespected.”

Msawakhe Mayisela, the spokesperson for the eThekwini Municipality, said they were aware of the state of the cemetery in Merebank.

“The municipality is aware of this and it is working on a plan to address the matter, especially with the recent rains received that have influenced the speedy growth of vegetation. A team will be sent to cut the grass once the rains clear.”

The municipality was looking into fencing the cemetery to keep out vagrants, he said.

“The community must report sightings of vagrants or criminal activity as they happen at the cemetery, so that they may be dealt with.”

Meanwhile, north of the city, the Moonsamy family have a similar story but one involving the privately owned Mount Edgecombe Cemetery.

Buried here are Lennon Moonsamy’s parents, Gabriel and Lallie Moonsamy. The land is overseen by the Mount Edgecombe Cemetery Trust. The trustees contracted the Phoenix Foundation Trust to maintain the gravesites.

Moonsamy’s father, a municipal worker, died in 2010 of cancer. He was 56. His mother died a year later at the age of 54. She worked as a machinist in a clothing factory and died as a result of renal failure.

Moonsamy, a manager at an insurance company, previously visited the gravesite last January.

“I try to visit a few times a year. Last year, the place was in excellent condition. I could not visit thereafter due to the lockdown. When I went on March 14, I was utterly disgusted by what I saw. The cemetery is now basically a full-on bush with about 99% of the graves fully covered in grass. I could not even access my parents’ graves.”

Moonsamy said the family paid R1 500 every four years to renew the gravesite’s lease, of which a portion was used for maintenance.

“This is no way to respect the dead. It is actually heartbreaking to go to the cemetery on special occasions only to find that you are unable to access the grave. We expect the money we pay to be used for maintenance and security. I want an explanation.”

Rani Kisten, of the Phoenix Foundation Trust, said the Mount Edgecombe Cemetery Trust had terminated their services.

“We ran the cemetery for about 16 years. We handled the maintenance but after my husband became sick, we could no longer continue and handed in our letter of termination. The trustees did not dispute it. There was no money to return because it was all used on the maintenance.”

Dan Naidoo, the chairman of the Mount Edgecombe Cemetery Trust, said the Phoenix Foundation Trust was required to hand over all the documentation pertaining to the graves. This included burial orders and the burial register.

“The trust has not handed over all the documentation and because of this, they are still responsible for maintaining the cemetery.”

Naidoo said they would hold a meeting with the public in May to elect a new contractor to take over the operation of the cemetery.

The graves at the Mount Edgecombe Cemetery

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