Chi­nese com­mu­nity in call to re­claim Brixton ceme­tery from van­dals

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHAUN SMILLIE

TWICE a year the Chi­nese com­mu­nity visit the Brixton ceme­tery to per­form a cer­e­mony to hon­our the an­ces­tors.

But safety has be­come a con­cern for the com­mu­nity at this Joburg ceme­tery.

“I was dis­gusted and scared,” said Wal­ter Pon, who vis­ited the ceme­tery last month as part of the cer­e­mony of Pai Fai, which in­volves lay­ing flow­ers on graves.

“When I got there, va­grants had strung wash­ing be­tween the tomb­stones, they ap­pear to be liv­ing there.

“We just placed the flow­ers on the first tomb­stone and dis­ap­peared as fast as we could.”

Pon wrote a let­ter to the Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion Gaut­eng to see if it could come up with a so­lu­tion.

“It’s tough. We’ve been talk­ing to the coun­cil and they have put up a fence around the ceme­tery.

“How­ever, it’s been stolen three times,” said Dr Va­rina Woon, who is a mem­ber of the as­so­ci­a­tion that has been tasked with find­ing a so­lu­tion.

One of the sug­ges­tions was to fence off the Chi­nese sec­tion of the ceme­tery, but Pro­fes­sor Kathy Mun­roe, of the Jo­han­nes­burg Her­itage Foun­da­tion, be­lieves it’s a bad idea.

“You can’t close off sec­tions of the ceme­tery, as we have an ap­palling his­tory of di­vid­ing peo­ple even in death,” she ex­plained.

What is of con­cern to Mun­roe is the van­dal­ism that has oc­curred in the ceme­tery.

Joburg’s older ceme­ter­ies, she said, were an im­por­tant part of the city’s her­itage.

They added to the in­di­vid­ual sto­ries of some the city’s pi­o­neer­ing cit­i­zens.

The Jo­han­nes­burg Her­itage Foun­da­tion was col­lect­ing a reg­istry of some of the more im­por­tant graves in the ceme­tery.

When Mun­roe vis­ited the Brixton ceme­tery, she found even fu­ner­ary stone vases had been up­ended and turned into seat­ing for braais.

Bronze plaques have been stolen. Woon said that the Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion Gaut­eng has looked at pos­si­bly re­pair­ing tomb­stones, but the price was too ex­pen­sive.

“At the mo­ment we’re look­ing at per­haps hir­ing a gar­den ser­vice over the ac­tual time of the cer­e­mony, and use ex­tra se­cu­rity,” added Woon.

Jenny Moodley, spokesper­son for Joburg City Parks, said se­cu­rity at the ceme­ter­ies needed to be beefed up, but City Parks didn’t have the re­sources.

The Brixton ceme­tery has se­cu­rity at its en­trance but va­grants are slip­ping through the fence.

Sec­tions of the ceme­tery’s fenc­ing have also been stolen.

Joburg metro po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the theft and pa­trolling the area.

“We’re ap­peal­ing to the com­mu­nity to help re­claim Brixton ceme­tery, and help us put in place proper safety mea­sures,” Moodley said.

City Parks is hav­ing a clean-up of the ceme­tery next Satur­day at 10am, and has in­vited the com­mu­nity to come and as­sist.

A meet­ing was also planned on the day and Moodley said the com­mu­nity was wel­come to raise is­sues around the ceme­tery.

In Au­gust, when Pai Fa next comes around, Pon said that he would be back to per­form his duty of hon­our­ing his an­ces­tors.

“I will go, but with armed guards,” he added.

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