Fed up with thugs’ graveside gunfire

2013-11-18 00:00

GUNFIRE to honour the dead is posing a threat to the lives of those who live near cemeteries in Durban.

Allegations have been made that those firing the volleys of shots in respect of the “criminal” dead, are often drunk. They also race through city cemeteries doing “doughnuts” in their cars.

In Umhlanga and Durban North, bullets discharged at funerals are landing in nearby swimming pools while beer bottles and evidence of vehicle “doughnuts” can be found near burial sites.

The situation, which is particularly rife in the Redhill cemetery, could see the city sink R600 000 into CCTV surveillance systems at the 65 municipal cemeteries, with Redhill and Umbilo cemeteries being the first to benefit.

The thoughtless behaviour has sparked outrage from local ward councillors and the local neighbourhood watch, who have demanded immediate relief from the police and council.

A Redhill resident who works at the municipal offices across the road from the cemetery said the situation was dangerous and could result in loss of lives. “I work every Saturday, and that’s when the shooting occurs. All sorts of firearms such as pistols, AK47, R5 and other automatic weapons are discharged. This happens mostly when criminals are buried.

“When the shooting happens, women ululate, cars are spun and alcohol is shared. The bullet that goes up must come down, so this is dangerous,” said the resident, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.

Municipal cemeteries manager Pepe Dass said increased concern over gunfire during funeral proceedings was one of the main reasons for the proposal for cameras to be installed.

“We urge the community to come forward with any knowledge of this, if they see or experience a not-so-peaceful burial. If people want to practice this sort of salute they should seek permission from the SAPS to do so,” said Dass.

Dass said they have engaged with the local SAPS and have urged them to be on high alert for these incidents at funerals so they do not get out of hand.

“We have had a few reported incidents at Redhill cemetery. We also had a report of gunfire at the West Street cemetery two weeks ago by a field worker at 9 pm,” said Dass.

Umhlanga ward councillor Heinz de Boer said there have been three reported incidents in the last month at the Redhill cemetery, adding he has received “many complaints” of bullets landing in residents’ swimming pools and on their house roofs.

“These people just have no respect for the law or the cemetery. It is evident that they drink and drive through the cemeteries during these funerals.

“The cemetery is situated near a residential area as well as North Coast Road, which is often quite busy. Stray bullets can go anywhere once they are shot into the sky,” said De Boer.

He said while the introduction of CCTVs at the cemetery would be “welcomed”, the presence of security on the ground is inadequate. Tombstones, lighting and cables were being stolen on a regular basis, he said.

“We have noticed that these gun salutes are mostly for criminals, held on a Saturday or Sunday. There have been a few instances where military veterans have held a gun salute, but shoot blanks and not live ammunition,” said de Boer.

He said beer bottles and tyre skid marks can be found near burial sites.

Howard Oram, the chairman of the Mvoti Neighbourhood Watch, said the law does not permit the use of firearms in public places, and therefore they could say that those conducting gun salutes are criminals.

“We are deeply concerned with the wellbeing of the residents in the area. There are 150 to 200 shots fired during these salutes and can easily hit someone,” said Oram.

Expressing his anger towards the situation, Oram said it was a shame that the parks, recreation and culture unit has not made any changes to the state of the cemetery after numerous complaints.

“The cemetery does not have proper walls or fences and people often loiter in and out. We have made various appeals to the municipality to sort this out, but nothing has been done. Lights have been stolen from the cemetery so there is no way cameras are going to benefit us.

“Our complaints have fallen on deaf ears and we are aware of one incident where the Inanda police station commander knew about what was going to take place at the cemetery, but did nothing to stop it”, said Oram.

Oram has put in a request to the municipality to take charge of the situation as he fears for the lives of those living in the neighbourhood.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said recorded incidents of gun salutes were not in the possession of SAPS, but with the municipality.

Head of parks, recreation and culture unit Thembinkosi Ngcobo said they are hopeful the CCTV project will be rolled in the next three months.

It is proposed that the system will be linked to the municipality’s control, emergency and disaster operations centre and monitored 24 hours.

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