Grave records thrown away

2018-07-12 16:24
Sikhumbuzo Memela and Lindiwe Zulu hold up the grave numbers of their relatives. The pair met yesterday at the Sinathing Cemetery while searching fruitlessly for the graves of their loved ones.

Sikhumbuzo Memela and Lindiwe Zulu hold up the grave numbers of their relatives. The pair met yesterday at the Sinathing Cemetery while searching fruitlessly for the graves of their loved ones. (Nhlanhla Nkosi)

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Families desperately searching for the graves of loved ones buried at the Sinathing Cemetery will never find them as Msunduzi Municipality says maps of the graveyard were “mistakenly discarded as waste”.

Lindiwe Zulu has been fruitlessly walking the enormous graveyard of Sinathing Cemetery for months now trying to locate the graves of two of her relatives who died in the 1960s.

“We want to erect tombstones for them but I haven’t been able to find their graves despite having the grave numbers,” she told The Witness despondently this week.

Zulu said the caretaker at the cemetery told her that officials from Msunduzi Municipality’s parks department collected all the maps dating from before the 1990s.

“Apparently the maps were falling apart and they were going to fix them up. That was years ago and to this day the maps haven’t been returned.”

She said efforts to get assistance from the parks department proved fruitless as she was simply sent from pillar to post and she said that municipal officials no longer answer her calls.

She is not alone in what — it now emerges — is a hopeless quest.

While she was at the cemetery another visitor, Sikhumbuzo Memela, arrived at the Sinathing Cemetery in search of his mother’s burial site.

He said his mother was buried there when he was still a young boy in 1987.

The caretaker took one look at Memela’s piece of paper with the grave number and year of her death and quickly apologised, saying he would not be able to help him.

“This is really sad and painful. I am the eldest person at home now and the pressure lies on me to find the grave so my siblings and I can fix it up and be able to visit our mother,” said Memela.

He explained that he was very young when his mother died but has a “vague” idea of which side of the cemetery her grave was located.

“The confusing thing now is that you will find about three different graves with the same number in the same area so we need a map to help us find the right grave,” said Memela.

The caretaker at the cemetery, who asked not to be named, said there was not much he could do to help people locate graves dating before the 1990s as he did not have maps that would give their location.

If he had access to such maps it would take “an hour or less” to help the people.

Thobeka Mafumbatha, Msunduzi Municipality’s spokesperson, confirmed later that the maps have been destroyed.

She said Snathing Cemetery was handed over to Msunduzi Municipality between 1997 and 1998.

Prior to that the custodian of the cemetery was the provincial government.

“In spite of records being handed over to Msunduzi Municipality, the condition of their records was very poor. Maps were water damaged and in shreds due to ageing documents.”

Mafumbatha said the maps were given to Gestion Engineers who were employed by the City to survey cemeteries for fencing as per the Cemetery and Crematoria Business Plan but due to the severe damage to the records, Gestion Engineers were unable to salvage the maps.

“They returned the maps in the same condition in which they were given by us, which was in bin bags. Because of this we think that they were mistakenly discarded as waste because they (now) can’t be found,” said Mafumbatha.

She said the maps were collected from the cemetery in 2015 and returned to the municipality in May 2018. Mafumbatha said there were no copies left with Msunduzi Municipality.

“The records of the cemetery are kept by the municipality and the families are also responsible for the graves of their loved ones,” she added.

Read more on:    lost graves  |  pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality

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