Families note worrying trend of sinking burial sites in cemeteries across the city
Graves in Nelson Mandela Bay are sinking deeper and deeper into the ground, causing worried families to question whether the tombstones erected for their loved ones will simply disappear one day.
Bereaved family members of people buried in the Motherwell, Zwide, Forest Hill and Malabar cemeteries say they have growing concerns over the state of their loved ones’ final resting places.
Agnes Malophana, 40, of New Brighton, said she noticed the sinking graves when visiting a family member’s grave site last month.
“I noticed it was gradually sinking in the area by the tombstone,” she said. “I also noticed that the years on the tombstones were not [old].
“These are fairly new graves but they are sinking. “How is this possible?” Malophana said according to traditional belief, when a grave was damaged or destroyed it meant a loved one could not rest in peace and that this was of concern to her.
“I decided to go to the office of deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani to lodge a formal complaint,” she said.
Some of the worst-affected graves can be found at Forest Hill and Motherwell, but the problem is also evident at other Bay cemeteries.
Lungisile Ntlanjeni, of Motherwell, became emotional about the sorry state of his wife’s grave.
He said she had only died in October and already her grave was sinking.
“I am disappointed at the sight of my wife’s grave. I’ve just buried her and now I have to get an estimation on how much fixing the hole will cost,” Ntlanjeni said.
A desperate Loyiso Mthunzini, 30, of New Brighton, walks to the KwaDwesi cemetery almost every day in the hope of finding his late mother’s grave, which seems to have just disappeared.
“My mother was buried when I was young and the state of this graveyard has made it difficult for me to find her.” Mthunzini said.
“I’m not sure whether her grave has sunk or whether she has been displaced.”
NMMU Geosciences Professor Callum Anderson said: “What usually causes graves to sink could be partially as a result of how the sand is distributed on the surface.
“It’s likely to happen to graves where the sand is levelled out instead of being [placed in] a mound. If left in a mound, the sand will settle on its own.”
He said that a waiting period of about six months had to be observed before a slab was placed on the grave.
Municipal spokesman Mzobanzi Jikazana said the issue of collapsed grave sites also presented a safety hazard, especially where the resultant holes in the ground were quite deep. “Weather conditions, heavy rains, soil erosion and flooding all cause graves to collapse.”
He said it was also not advisable to level the soil on top of graves before proper settling had taken place.
“Although this problem rests with the municipality because they own the land, the grave owners are responsible for the condition of the graves,” Jikazana said.
“The cemetery supervisory staff must report areas of concern to management so that these challenges can be rectified.
“In the case of sunken graves, the graves must be recorded and the staff must try to get hold of the grave owners and alert them.
“If the owner cannot be traced, the municipality will provide the necessary resources to have the sunken grave back-filled and levelled,” he said.
Jikazana said land on which existing cemeteries had been developed was an inherent problem as no proper environmental impact assessments (EIAs) were done at the time.
“Our cemeteries were developed anywhere [and] without any infrastructure, roads, stormwater and drainage,” he said.
“They were also not properly landscaped at the time.
“The municipality is addressing all these challenges at a huge cost, which cannot be disclosed,” Jikazana said.