Road of bones

Hankey residents take to roadside burials due to overflowing graveyards Driving into Hankey, the eerie sight of graves – just a couple of metres from the road – greets visitors to a town where the cemeteries are so full residents are forced to bury their dead on top of each other.

But the problem, which is especially bad in Hankey, can be found in many of the other small towns in the Kouga region, with Patensie’s last available plots almost full, while elsewhere, space is running out fast. There are some graveyards with limited burial space still left, but the costs are prohibitive for many of the unemployed and indigent residents. Rebecca Roberts, of Patensie undertaker P W Killian, said the problem was widespread and they often did not know what to tell people. “We have clients in Hankey who struggle to bury their loved ones because there is no space,” she said. “The grave sites are full, our clients come to us and we direct them to the municipality to look for a space. “The one grave site in Ramaphosa township is used up. Even the new one in town is almost full.” Roberts said that at the only graveyard with space still available, plots cost R800 which, in a town with such high levels of unemployment, was out of reach for many. “I know this because I buried my husband last year and had to pay that amount,” she said. “People in this area are poor – they cannot afford that money.” In May last year, the municipality set aside R500 000 to hire a consultant to find more space for burials. However, the problem has not been resolved and all indications are that more and more people will be buried alongside main roads or anywhere a space can be found. A visit to the area revealed a string of new graves overflowing on to the side of a main road in the Kleinrivier farm area on the way to Hankey. The unfenced graves appear to be overflowing from the Kleinrivier Boerdery, a citrus farm in the area. “We don’t know what we are going to do from now on,” Isaac Gqiba, 45, a religious leader among farmworkers in the Kleinrivier community, said. “Even the spots next to the road are full now.” Gqiba, who helps to dig graves in the area at no cost, said he had dug a grave next to the road just three months ago and had found it disturbing. “People will either have to be buried in their own backyards, or we will have to pay hundreds of rands for a funeral somewhere else – and many of us cannot afford it,” he said. “But the scripture says we need to go back into the earth, so who do we turn to for help?” Asked why residents did not use municipal grave sites which still had space, Gqiba said: “We have our loved ones buried on the farms – we cannot leave them here. “Some people are sensitive about being buried next to their loved ones.” Farmworker Hendrik Windvogel, 53, buried his daughter, Portia Tarentaal, 31, in one of the roadside graves less than five months ago because there was nowhere else to bury her.

“We are worried about these graves,” he said, staring at the cross on his daughter’s grave. “When it rains, the water runs down the road and washes away some of the ground on top, and we can see the graves sinking deeper and deeper. “But all the graveyards are full. We will probably have to start burying people on top of each other one of these days.” Nearly two decades ago, farmer Marius Kleyn, 53, donated the land where the Kleinrivier graveyard is to the then Western District Council (WDC), which now falls under the Sarah Baartman District Municipality. By that time, the land had already been used as a graveyard for many years, with graves dating back more than 60 years and more than three generations of families of all races buried there. Although all the paperwork to transfer ownership of the land to the WDC had been signed, Kleyn said a recent visit to the deeds office showed the land was still in his name. “It seems the transfer costs were never paid, despite all the paperwork being finalised,” he said. “As far as I am concerned, the land belongs to the municipality and it should try to find additional land for another graveyard. “We have no idea who all the people are who have been buried there. “In the past, we helped to clean the graves and the graveyard, but now large parts are barely accessible. “We first noticed the roadside graves about two years ago, and since then the situation has become much worse.” However, Kouga municipal spokesman Mfundo Sobele said Hankey was not the problem area as there was still space at the Centerton cemetery, but at least three grave sites in the Kouga area had reached full capacity, with residents burying their dead relatives on top of each other. “Some people opt to bury their loved ones on top of each other,” Sobele said. “So while the municipality can declare a site as being at full capacity, people still choose to use it. “People can be buried on top of each other in instances where the family pays for an extra deep grave. These are normally people who are related.” Sobele said the municipal grave sites in Hankey were both operational. “We still have space for further burials, although it is limited. At the Centerton cemetery, we are still processing applications.” Grave sites which were at full capacity, according to Sobele, were the Ramaphosa graveyard in Patensie and Kruisfontein graveyard in Humansdorp. At KwaNomzamo township in Humansdorp, and in Thornhill and Loerie, space was running out, he said. Asked if the municipality was facing a crisis, Sobele said: “No, we are finding ways to deal with the problem.” He said the process of looking for suitable land for new burial sites last year was stopped due to supply-chain processes not being followed properly. “The process has been started afresh and we will soon advertise a tender for consultants to do a suitability study,” Sobele said. He said they would investigate the graves on the side of the road at the Kleinrivier farm as they had not been aware of them.