Vandals violate cemeteries

A vandalised building at the Kuils River cemetery.

Vandalism, theft, illegal dumping and squatting are marring municipal cemeteries, says the City.

But the Kuils River Civic Association (KRCA) says general attitudes towards the homeless need to change and that the City should maintain its facilities and clean the area.

The City says Covid-19 regulations prevent it from clearing street people from several burial grounds, including the Kuils River and Durbanville cemeteries.

It would cost R2000 to repair damaged palisade fencing at the Kuils River cemetery, said Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member community services and health.

KRCA chairman Isaac Jencke said the fence had been wrecked by a car accident. “This also gave access to the graveyard. This has led to vandalism of a City building and cable (theft),” he said.

Dr Badroodien said: “The escalating costs of continued vandalism of parks and cemeteries costs the City millions of rand annually, making it unsustainable to fund cemetery (or other) upgrades when they are frequently stolen or damaged, soon after installation.

“Cemeteries are vast portions of land and it is impossible to secure each grave, especially in recent months when the demand for burials was at its peak and drew heavy foot traffic daily through the cemeteries. City cemeteries are also classified as public open spaces and are therefore required to remain accessible to all.”

Municipal cemeteries had full perimeter fencing and, where necessary, security guards, but paying for security services for cemeteries was “unaffordable and unsustainable as a permanent, long-term solution”, Dr Badroodien said,

The City had reported numerous cases of theft and vandalism to the police, he said.

“Illegal dumping is another reoccurring challenge at some cemeteries and other areas of the city,” he said.

“We are also aware of an apparent increase in street people living or sleeping in, or adjacent to cemeteries. Due to the current Disaster Management regulations in place, it is very difficult to address this particular issue. The City continues to do its social development outreach work on a daily basis, but offers of assistance are voluntary and no one can be forced to accept the help.”

Mr Jencke said the homeless slept next to the cemetery and not on the graves.

“I was chatting to one of the KRCA members, and he said: ’Who would want to sleep in a cemetery?’ That shows you (homeless) people are desperate.”

He added: “The City should be servicing the Kuils River area and the cemetery regularly. To say it is as it is because of homeless people (is not right)… they do contribute, but they’re not the cause of vandalism and a dirty Kuils River. I personally don’t have a problem with the homeless.”

At Durbanville cemetery, Northern News found five damaged headstones and litter but there was no sign of street people on the premises.

Damaged headstones in Durbanville cemetery.

Dr Badroodien said two Expanded Public Works Programme staff were employed full time at Durbanville cemetery to remove litter and prevent vandalism during working hours.

“Whilst staff is on site and operational during the day and work hand-in-hand with Law Enforcement to reduce incidents, most of these take place outside of working hours and at night.”

Asked what type of vandalism and damage Durbanville cemetery had seen, he said: “Damage to plaques on niche walls occurred last year resulting in families coming forward to check on their niches and replace their plaques where necessary. Damages to memorials on some graves were also reported in 2020.”

He added that there were plans to improve access control at the cemetery and cameras had been installed. And a network of neighbourhood watches, private security, Law Enforcement and SAPs patrolled the area.