Cemeteries

On rare occasions when finances and time permit, planning a leisurely road trip to Cape Town can be an exciting enterprise. Should one travel via Bloemfontein on the N1, Kimberley via the N12 or Upington via the N14? Perhaps even the N9 via Graaff-Reinet and then Montagu via the R62.

On 5 May 2018, a small group of about 20 people gathered at Rynsoord Cemetery in Benoni to remember Esther Henry/Eaton who passed away on 11 January 1943 at her residence, “The Firs,” Main Road, Benoni. A plaque was unveiled in remembrance of the Benoni pioneer who was separated by law from her husband, George William (Bill) Eaton in death.

 

It is fortunate for posterity that Group Captain Rupert Taylor, a Johannesburg businessman in 1964 became interested in the old Simon’s Town Seaforth Cemetery or the ‘Old Burying Ground’, as it is called. Like his war-time contemporary ‘Sailor’ Malan he began his service career in the Navy before switching to the Airforce during the Second World War. While in the Navy he used to occasionally sit under a plaque to Midshipman Hammill in this cemetery admiring the sea view.

Sometimes an interesting question is asked. ‘Which Cemetery is the most venerable in South Africa?’ Not so easy to answer as one may think. There are some strong contenders but the Tana Baru in the Bo-Kaap, the oldest Muslim Cemetery in Cape Town, can certainly stake a very credible claim. This is the only historical cemetery in South Africa of which an informative book has been written, The History of the Tana Baru, by Achmat Davids.

When you read the book ‘Letters of Stone’ by South African author Steven Robins, which tracks the lives and fates of the Robinsky family in Southern Africa, Berlin, Riga and ultimately Auschwitz, you may be tempted to visit Williston to experience first-hand where one of the principal figures of this poignant story lived. Here you will find Robinsky Street, commemorating Robins’ great uncle Eugen Robinski who fled Konigsberg, East Prussia to become a successful businessman, hotel owner and one-time mayor of this small Karoo town.

Middelburg is one of those towns one usually bypasses while travelling to the Loskop Dam, the Kruger Park or the Mpumalanga Escarpment, not realizing it offers interesting sightseeing opportunities.

There is a historic Dutch Reformed Church established by the controversial Reverend Frans Lion Cachet in 1866, when the community was still known as Nazareth. Later the town’s name was changed to Middelburg, as it was midway between the two principal Transvaal towns of Pretoria (Tshwane) and Lydenburg (Mashishing).

A friend who grew up in Germiston claimed at his recent birthday bash that while you could leave Germiston, it would never leave you. His words mulled through my mind as I arrived at the Primrose Cemetery. Visiting a historic cemetery like Primrose is similar to visiting an interesting museum. Instead of viewing artifacts one sees the tombstones of people who participated in events that may have shaped one’s life in one way or another. One also starts better interpreting the tombstone symbols and appraising the epitaphs. 

 

Perhaps you recall the 1980s advert, ‘Where did you have your first Campari? – in Benoni.’ That was well before Charlize Theron made Benoni famous.

Well, you do not have to be a taphophile (someone who takes an interest in cemeteries and tombstones) or require a taste for Campari to visit the Rynsoord Benoni Cemetery.

Most Gauteng holiday makers break their journey to the KZN Coast at one of the Ultra City or Star Stop facilities at Harrismith or Van Reenen’s Pass. Once fortified with fuel, fast food and soft drinks, they continue on their way, aware they are halfway to Durban.

This is a pity as they miss the opportunity to visit one of the more interesting and historical cemeteries in South Africa. This is the old Harrismith Municipal Cemetery, situated north-east of the corner of Laksman and Greyling Streets.

On 13 August 2018, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources revisited the Winkelhaak Cemetery at Evander Gold Mine, Mpumalanga. The Committee noted progress in improving the infrastructure at the grave site by the Winkelhaak Cemetery Project. Since their last visit in 2015, a wall has been built around the whole site and a granite monument has been erected. 

 

Below are notes prepared by the heritage team from the City of Johannesburg for a speech delivered at the unveiling ceremony of a blue plaque for Juliwe Cemetery during Heritage Month 2017. The speech was read out by Mr Kepi Madumo, Executive Director for Community Development, on behalf of the MMC. The notes tell the story of the forced removals of the African community from Roodepoort West to Dobsonville and the fight to save the cemetery from destruction.

Below is the first article in a series on the Brixton Cemetery by Kathy Munro. The piece begins by giving the reader a general understanding of the purpose, origin and meaning of cemeteries before delving into the history and significance of Brixton Cemetery. It finishes by highlighting the shocking current state of the cemetery and attempts by local groups to take action. Future articles will look at the epitaphs and symbolism of the Brixton Cemetery as well as stories behind the graves and family memorials.

 

Subscribe to Cemeteries