City cemetery in ruins

2015-09-09 09:30
Heritage Guest House manager Kayla Osborn and Pietermaritzburg Genealogical Society member John Deare in the filth of the Commercial Road Cemetery.

Heritage Guest House manager Kayla Osborn and Pietermaritzburg Genealogical Society member John Deare in the filth of the Commercial Road Cemetery. (Ian Carbutt)

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NOBODY cares.

With hundreds of discarded condoms, used syringes and faeces littering the graves of one of the oldest cemeteries in Pietermaritzburg and after several major clean-ups of the cemetery, it seems that the Commercial Road Cemetery has ultimately been left to go to rack and ruin.

Pietermaritzburg Genealogical Society member John Deare said after countless amounts of efforts made to preserve the heritage-rich cemetery, he has “given up” and said nothing has changed.

The cemetery dates back to the founding of the city itself with graves as old as 1839, encapsulating the history and heritage of the city.

However, the graves of Pietermaritzburg’s first settlers have been vandalised, tombstones stolen and knocked over, and prostitutes appear to be operating in the cemetery using cardboard as “beds”, hidden between headstones with used condoms scattered all around.

The old metal fences that once enclosed the cemetery have been stolen and replaced with flimsy fencing that is cut daily so vagrants, prostitutes and those looking for scrap metal are able to enter the premises.

Deare provided a detailed history of the cemetery and said the cemetery’s registers were started in 1889 but the earliest tombstone erected was in 1839.

“The earliest inscription on a tombstone is that of Hendrik Van den Berg, who was born in 1785 and died in 1839 in the city at the age of 54.

“He was a Voortrekker whose burial took place within a year of the founding of Pietermaritzburg.

“In 1918 the Anglican Church required more land for burials and purchased it from the Dutch Reformed Church. Thus Anglican graves can be found on both sides of Commercial Road.

“During the years the Anglican Church spent sums of money on maintaining the area, with regular amounts being spent on labour, replacing iron work and painting.”

The cemetery closed for burials in 1948.

Over 40 people who may be linked to road names across Pietermaritzburg are buried in the cemetery, including Taunton, Boshoff, Tatham, Stranack and Hyslop.

“We claim to have a well preserved Victorian City of historical interest which is also linked with the Voortrekkers.

“But what of our forefathers and pioneers? Is it not hypocritical to preserve our historical buildings and places of interest, while the early settlers who built Pietermaritzburg lie neglected and forgotten,” said Deare.

Deare said a huge clean-up in conjunction with municipal officials had taken place last year but the cemetery continued to be desecrated on a daily basis.

Heritage Guest House (directly opposite the cemetery in Miller Road) manager Kayla Osborn said staff at Traffords Restaurant where she also worked, cleaned the streets surrounding the graveyard weekly but dared not set foot in the cemetery. “It is absolutely shocking. All the headstones have either been knocked over or stolen and the fences surrounding the cemetery are constantly being knocked down and cut.

“The place looks disgusting. We clean the streets every week but we are too scared to set foot in the cemetery.”

Osborn said the grounds were littered with used condoms, syringes, broken needles and human faeces.

Cough syrup bottles, old nappies and sanitary pads also littered the spaces in between the old headstones.

“This is real heritage and it is being destroyed. We have called police when we have seen someone in the graveyard but when they arrive, they are too scared to go in.”

Osborn said an old mausoleum in the graveyard was often used by vagrants who lit fires in the small building and harassed staff from Traffords.

“Both the men and women who work here are scared to walk out at night because of the people staying in that little building. One day they are going to burn it down completely.”

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said the cemetery was maintained by the municipality and would be “attended to soon”

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