Matter of grave concern

2015-09-10 09:30
Claire Day searches for family members’ grave stones at the Commercial Road cemetery.

Claire Day searches for family members’ grave stones at the Commercial Road cemetery. (IAN CARBUTT)

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WITH efforts under way to clean the syringe- and condom-littered Commercial Road cemetery, the Msunduzi Municipality has also promised that the facility will be regularly patrolled by municipal security guards and the police in future.

Yesterday The Witness reported that the cemetery, one of the oldest in Pietermaritzburg, had been let go to rack and ruin, with prostitutes using the grounds as a makeshift brothel, vagrants sleeping and using drugs on the property, and people stealing fencing and headstones from the site. Headstones had been stolen, knocked over and vandalised at many gravesites.

Yesterday, municipal cleaners worked around the old graves, cutting grass and picking up some of the rubbish that covered the site.

Hilton resident Claire Day said she had recently discovered that she had a number of relatives buried in the Commercial Road cemetery and was “heartbroken” to learn that it had fallen into the hands of vagrants, thieves and prostitutes.

“I realised my family has a long history in Pietermaritzburg. We have been living here for generations and have a few family members buried there, so having read The Witness article on what has happened to the site is shocking.

“It is so sad to see people place such little importance on other people’s final resting places.”

Day said she had wanted to visit the cemetery to find all the relatives buried there, but was afraid of what she might find.

“I am afraid of finding the headstones missing or knocked over, and that would be even more heartbreaking for me,” she said.

Day added that the cemetery was rich in history and heritage, and that there were far more people linked to current Pietermaritzburg families buried there than people realised.

Pietermaritzburg resident Amanda Peddle, who works less than a kilometre from the cemetery, said she was “shocked” at the lack of maintenance. Although the municipality cleaned up the graveyard yesterday, it would be “back to how it was in a week”, she said.

“I understand that there is lots to do all over the city, but with so many old buildings in Pietermaritzburg being made heritage sites, I feel the cemetery should receive the same status.

“Proper fencing needs to be put in and regular check-ups on the graveyard need to be done.

“There is such incredible history in that cemetery and it is just basic maintenance by the municipality that needs to be carried out regularly.”

Peddle said she wanted to organise a group of residents who would volunteer to clean the cemetery with her once a month to preserve the city’s history.

Peddle can be contacted via e-mail at

Municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said yesterday that municipal security and police officers would perform regular patrols at night.

“We have acquired four quad bikes which will patrol the Alexandra Park and Commercial Road cemeteries.

“However, the preservation of the tombstones must be done by the family members that have grave sites at the cemetery.

“The council only maintains the cemetery to ensure that it is clean.”

Madonda said the vagrants had been removed previously from the Commercial Road cemetery, but they were persistent in returning

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