Graveyard graffiti outrage

2008-08-08 00:00

Cemeteries are the latest target of Durban’s graffiti gangs. Yellow pentagrams have appeared on graves and other symbols have been sprayed on everything from surrounding walls to municipal sign posts, electricity boxes and even trees.

The Stellawood cemetery in central Durban has been hardest hit, although considerable damage has been done to smaller cemeteries like the one in Queensburgh, according to Gary Roper, whose company, Graffiti Removal Services, is often called in by the eThekwini Municipality, property management companies, businesses and property owners.

Roper said that over the past year, the graffiti problem in the city has gone from bad to worse.

He said he did not know if the graveyard graffiti is simply malicious or actually satanic.

Pentagrams, especially those drawn upside down and resting on the single end of the five-pointed star, have long been associated with satanic rituals.

“I was appalled. Nothing is holy anymore,” said Chris Barnard, the pastor of the Queensburgh Congregational Church, who lives directly across the road from the Queensburgh cemetery. He was speaking about an incident during which he witnessed young people having sex on graves.

Despite attempts by the municipality to install floodlights, he said there is a great deal of “activity” of young people roaming around in the cemetery at night. With the recent death of the caretaker, the gates are now being left open.

Roper said most graffiti is not satanic and that cemeteries could simply be convenient practice spots for youngsters wielding spraypaint cans.

He said graffiti is about rebellion and claiming territory. So-called graffiti artists work in crews of between two and six and go round at night spraying both their own “tags”, or nicknames.

Often they over-spray or add to the graffiti of other gangs in order to prove they are more dominant. “It’s effectively a fight with spraypaint. These guys aren’t artists, it is pure malicious vandalism and it is getting out of hand,” he said.

Roper recently cleaned the grave of a friend of teacher Faith Langley, who noticed the desecration when visiting the graves of her late husband and daughter in the Queensburgh cemetery.

She said she felt particularly uneasy about the fact that the grave targeted belonged to a friend who was a pastor. She said they decided not to highlight the fact on the gravestone.

Roper said that while he began removing graffiti from graves as a community service, he now realises that he cannot tackle this problem alone. “I just can’t do it anymore. It is just too much,” he said.

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