Apartheid survives beyond the grave

Upington’s neglected cemeteries reflect the divisions of the past

| By
Photo of a grave
The first black mayor of Upington, Zwelentlanga Fatman Mgcawu, is buried at the Paballelo cemetery. A suikerpilboom is growing on the site. Photo: Selby Nomnganga

Near the Upington train station, the cemetery formerly reserved for whites only is closed for burials. Three workers maintain the graves. Behind the station are the scattered tombstones and heaps of sand of the old black cemetery. It has no fence and no one to maintain the graves.

In the old white cemetery is buried George St Leger Gordon Lennox, nicknamed Scotty Smith. He is revered as a Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor and his graveyard is marketed as a tourist attraction by the municipality.

He came to South Africa in 1877 from Australia with Scottish roots. He died in 1919 during the flu epidemic at the age of seventy four.

“The grave is one of the big tourist attractions” confirms curator Johlene van Niekerk of the Kalahari Oranje Museum.

Around the site are holes dug by meerkats.

The grave of George St Leger Gordon is promoted as a tourist attraction.

“I have seen bones next to graves,” says George Phomolo Lebaea, who used to work at the graveyard. He says he doesn’t know if the bones belonged to people or not.

Today, the graveyard is closed for burial except for those who have booked a site.

Lebaea now works at Paballelo graveyard, where the district’s first post-apartheid mayor, Zwelentlanga Fatman Mgcawu, is buried. Mgcawu, after whom the ZG Mgcawu District is named, was mayor from 1995 to 1997. He died aged 43 and his grave is surrounded by a fence painted in the black, green and gold of the ANC. Wild bushes are growing in and around the grave.

Behind the train station the old graveyard where black people were buried has no fence and is not maintained. On the top left of the picture is the informal settlement of Dakota.

Lebaea says in the past the municipality would employ 20 people to clean the graveyard, the only operating cemetery in Paballelo, every three months.

“That was last in 2016” claims Lebaea.

He says there are only two workers in the cemetery, while in the old white cemetery there are three maintenance workers.

But behind the station, in the old black cemetery, there are no maintenance workers at all. There is no fence around the graves. Some have tombstones, others are marked simply by stones and heaps of sand. Wild grass grows on the graves. One is the tombstone of Martha Helena “Tikkie” Beukes, who died in 1990, aged 68.

Another graveyard located between Bellevue and Rainbow where black people are buried is no longer open for burials and is in a similar state.

The municipality’s head of parks, Willie Brand, could not be reached for comment.

The Jewish section of the old whites-only graveyard is cordoned off with steel rails and locked.

TOPICS:  Government

Next:  Afrikaans-speaking parents threaten to close school

Previous:  Police target immigrant sex workers in Gauteng

Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

Isn't the ANC in charge? Isn't the mayor from the ANC?

All this article was intended to do was stir up racial tensions by conveniently not telling the whole story. conveniently ignoring, yet again, how it is the ruling party failing the people, that race issues have nothing to do with the problem discussed.

So sick and tired of these articles that purposely try and do harm to the relations and harmony of the people in this country for no other reason than the journalist's personal agenda.

© 2018 GroundUp. Creative Commons License
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.