Peace for the dead

Some of the graves and mausoleums have been deliberately vandalised, an angel without arms.
A gang member ran into Wynberg cemetery, lay on a grave and died. Gershwin Arendse, 29, of Lavender Hill was a member of the JFK (Junky Funky Kids) gang. Spokesperson for Wynberg police, Captain Nqunenka Lindipasi said the man had an argument the with members of Six Bob gang outside Wynberg Magistrates’ Court in Church Street on Monday October 29 at about 1.15pm. Captain Lindispasi said the man was stabbed twice, once in the heart and another to his left shoulder. 

(GH-not keen to name her for her safety) Nazeer Samodien, who runs a kiosk in Ebenezer Road overlooking the cemetery said the man had been in court with his mother. She left to go home but he stayed and the next thing she saw him running through the cemetery shouting to her that he had been stabbed. She said he fell onto a grave and died sometime later. Ms Samodien said the man was a regular in the area over the past seven months and would often stop to chat to her.

Last month Captain Silvino Davids said Wynberg police are aware when gangs come to court and are extra vigilant.

In August, at a meeting called by councillor Liz Brunette and hosted by the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, Len Lotz said the cemetery is filthy, a drug den, and invaded by sex workers and vagrants (“Wynberg still battling crime and grime”, Bulletin August 16). Ms Brunette said the cemetery is owned by three churches who all say they have no money for upkeep. 

Athol Swanson of Wynberg Improvement District (WID), who attended the meeting, said squatters were living there, using fences around the graves to build shelters. They also moved tombstones to use as seating and vandalised graves disrespecting the dead. 

Following the recent stabbing Mr Swanson said that as part of WIDs upliftment programme, and with St John’s Anglican Church, they had employed homeless people to clean the cemetery and cut back vegetation and trim trees. Only one person stayed, Fabian Baron, and he continues to work there.

The largest section of the cemetery is on the corner of Church and Ebenezer roads and owned by St John’s Parish. The  smallest portion is behind the Methodist Church which faces onto Church Street, and the Dutch Reformed portion to the east. Part of this was sold and an office block, House Vincent Wynberg Mews was built on it.  

John McPetrie of St John’s Church said until recently they were inundated with complaints from residents. Dumped litter, bedding, and drug-crazed shouting, screaming, swearing and prostitutes shouting at their clients were among the litany of complaints. Mr McPetrie said residents also feared for their properties and felt unsafe walking the area or parking their cars.

Mr McPetrie said the cemetery has much history with many people buried there who participated in past wars. He said they have recently made contact with the Commonwealth War Graves Commision. This commission honours the 1.7 million men and women of the commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, and ensures they will never be forgotten. From building and maintaining cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories to preservation of its extensive records and archives. 

Church administrator of the NG Kerk, Wynberg, Frans Mayoss said the cemetery is well over 200 years old and was declared a Cemetery of National significance in 1991, which means that the ground may not be sold or developed. “Many history writers refer to this cemetery as the ‘who’s who’ of the Cape’s history,” said Mr Mayoss. It has five mausoleums, one of them for the first minister of the NG Kerk in Wynberg, Dr Philip Faure (1862) of which Phillippi is named after. There are also graves of the Koopmans and De Wet families. Maria Koopmans deWet (1906) was a remarkable woman of her time and a campaigner for the promotion and preservation of our historic culture. Through her efforts and petitions she convinced Cecil John Rhodes not to demolish the Castle. Other graves include Petronella Anna Brink (1906), founder of Ladies Seminary which became Wynberg Girls’ High School; and Cloete family of Plumstead, Constantia and Alphen.

Brian Austen, trust steward of the Methodist Church said well known Wynberg families are buried there, the Winshaws who had a timber business; the MacDonald’s who had a clothing store; and Reverend Ernest William Lasbrey (1895) who was the Methodist Church minister and from Mitchell’s Plain. Of interest is that many people died young in the late 1800s from pneumonia or from war wounds. He said it is actually made up of four cemeteries – the Muslim section has no gravestones and looks like open land. Mr Austen said the churches would like to fence the cemetery but it will cost R250,000 and this would not guarantee to keep criminals out.  

When the Bulletin visited the cemetery on Friday, Mr Baron was helping a man dig a grave owned by his family for over 100 years. Mr Baron, who used to live in Lavender Hill and has worked in cemeteries in Muizenberg and Parish Road, Constantia, said he was not there when the stabbing took place. He showed tombstones that have been vandalised, and holes in the fence that have been fixed but there are plans to replace it. 

WIDs Robert Witbooi said it is good that the churches are claiming back the cemeteries. “It’s supposed to be a peaceful place, somewhere to discover the lives and times of people who lived over two centuries ago,” he said.

Captain Lindipasi said no arrests have been made, an investigation is underway. Anyone with the information can contact Detective Sergeant Siyasanga Maphukatha at 083 621 4470.