Bodies finally moved from waterlogged cemetery

Meshack Dikupe pays his final respect to his brother, Ephraim. Photo: Selogile Leshage

The exhumation and reburial of 41 bodies took place in the Tshing township of Ventersdorp last month, closing a painful chapter in the lives of the families and loved ones left behind.

In February last year, the community of Ventersdorp woke up to the distressing sight of the 47 graves lying in a water-logged cemetery. At the time, the families accused the local authorities of negligence in allocating unsuitable land for burial purposes.
Upon further investigation, however, it has been established that the situation was caused by a burst water pipe.
As an act of restitution, the J.B. Marks Municipality, as part of the reconciliation, healing and renewal (RHR) Programme in the Office of the Premier, arranged a prayer service.
The MEC for finance, economy and enterprise development, Wendy Nelson solemnly apologised to the families on behalf of the province.

The graves in a Ventersdorp burial site were lying in a pool of water.

MEC for Finance, Economy and Enterprise Development Wendy Nelson has apologised to the families.
Photo: Selogile Leshage

Families speak about the service
Meshack Dikupe described the past 18 months as the most painful journey for the family. ‘We hope my brother, Ephraim will finally be able to rest in peace. He used to be a traffic officer and it was heartbreaking to see a hardworking municipal worker being discarded like a dog in that pool of water.’
Francinah Mathongwane admits that they were assisted after the amalgamation of the two municipalities. ‘I would like to thank all the role players who made it happen. What we have to do is erect a tombstone for them,’ she said.
Disebo Booysen whose brother, Peter, was reburied on 5 February would have preferred the money that was spent on the catering to have been used for tombstones.
‘We should have been compensated for the pain we went through. When those graves were flooded, I had visions of my brother telling me that he was cold. I had sleepless nights until he was reburied.’ She described the trauma of identifying his body when it was exhumed.
Khuduga Dibe, the community member at the forefront of the two-year battle with the municipality says that unresolved issues suggest that the municipality has not shown enough remorse. He wants the municipality to be held accountable for the money that was spent and not budgeted for. ‘This money could have been spent on essential services,’ he says.
‘We would like the municipality to investigate the procurement for the event. There is something fishy about the way the service was conducted because some of the things that were said at the plenary session did not happen,’ he said. He also drew attention to glitches like the family members who were stranded without transport to the gravesite to lay wreaths.
The JB Marks Municipality responds to the families’ grievances
The council spokesperson, Willie Maphosa says the affected families were generally grateful to the municipality for giving them closure. ‘They were part of the plenary forum and were fully involved in the arrangements during the run-up to, and during the service itself. According to him, the transport arrangements ran as per the plenary forum decisions on the morning of the event. Two minibuses and three taxis were provided to collect the elderly members of the families, and at least get them to the venue. All the family members and relatives were inside when the formal programme began.
Maphosa does admit, however, that there was a slight delay in getting one or two families to the cemetery after the formal ceremony as more family members attended the proceedings than originally catered for.
On the issue of consequence management, Maphosa says the issue of disciplinary action against the ‘negligent’ or implicated official was not necessarily within the scope of the team’s mandate as the immediate concern, for now, was to move the dead to alternative cemeteries
  AUTHOR
Selogile Leshage
Journalist

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