Members of the Muslim community attempt to salvage what is left of desecrated graves at the Mowbray Cemetery. Picture: Shafiq Morton, Voice of the Cape Radio, Facebook
Cape Town - 
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) is calling on families who have recently buried loved ones at the Mowbray Cemetery to come forward and identify their graves.

This comes after around 70-80 graves were desecrated overnight, with the headstones removed and placed in the symbol of a cross at the upper end of the cemetery.

Sheikh Riad Fataar, second deputy president of the MJC and chair of the MJC’s Muslim Cemetery Board, said the graves affected are all of recent burials.

“This is very traumatic for the community,” Fataar said. “Those people who are going through the pain of losing loved ones, we now have to call them back again to identify where the grave is to put back the headstone.”

While grave diggers were able to identify where some of the moved headstones belong, they are asking community members to come and make sure each headstone is placed back on its correct grave.

Stuart Diamond, director of the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies, condemned the attack and called it Islamophobic.

Diamond said the fact that headstones were removed and placed in the symbol of a cross is "beyond appalling and is an indication of a carefully planned attack by fundamentalists".

Nkosi Zwelivelile of the Royal House of Mandela in the Eastern Cape also expressed shock.

"The violation of this sacred space is an evil act and an offence of not only religious sensibility but a violation of the values of peace, respect and dignity accorded to all citizens by our constitution."

The moved headstones are arranged in the shape of a cross, which - depending on which way round it is viewed - could be seen as a symbol of Christianity or anti-Christianity. 

“While we are seeing it is made out in a cross, we are not going to say it’s Christians who did this,” Fataar said. Some community members had also suggested it may be a Satanic symbol, with speculation that it could be linked to the full moon or to Halloween.

“We’re thinking it is some Satanic thing, we don’t really know, but it’s a sick thing to do. This is a bunch of crazy deranged people that are trying to create unnecessary friction in the community.”

This is not the only vandalism committed. Fataar said that some memorials were removed, and strange triangular symbols were also etched into the empty graves that had been dug in preparation for scheduled funerals.

“Those graves, they also made funny signs in there,” he said. “I couldn’t figure it out what it was, but it is strange.”

He said this incident has caused great sadness for himself and the Cape Muslim community.

“I was really angry because you are trying to protect people who cannot protect themselves, in the grave.”

Fataar said the incident must have happened sometime between 5pm on Tuesday night and 7am on Wednesday morning - however, due to the perfectly arranged nature of the headstones, he suspects it was done after daybreak with enough light to accurately align all the pieces.

“Because of it being extremely heavy, we are assuming it’s more than one person. It’s too heavy for one person to lift up.”

Fataar said they were working closely with police to investigate the crime, and called for calm in the Muslim community while the investigation is underway.

However, Western Cape police spokesman Siyabulela Malo said the case was not on record at either of the closest police stations yet.

“Kindly be advised we have consulted with Mowbray police and Woodstock police, both stations have no records of the matter you are referring to in your enquiry reported yet.”

UPDATE: Colonel Andre Traut has now confirmed that police are investigating the matter.

"Woodstock police are investigating a malicious damage to property case relating the damages caused to graves at the Mowbray cemetery," he said.

Weekend Argus