South Africa

GRAVE OCCASION

Avalon Cemetery’s 50-year commemoration interrupted by Eldorado Park gun violence protest

Avalon Cemetery’s 50-year commemoration interrupted by Eldorado Park gun violence protest
Joburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse at the graves of Tsietsi Mashinini and Kgotso Seathlolo at the 50th anniversary ceremony of Soweto’s Avalon Cemetery on 26 September 2022. The 172ha cemetery holds the remains of heroes and heroines, famous and less famous struggle activists and anti-apartheid stalwarts. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Johannesburg Mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse responded swiftly and positively to a group of protesting Eldorado Park leaders and community members who gatecrashed the 50th anniversary ceremony of the Avalon Cemetery.

A small group of Eldorado Park leaders and community members gatecrashed the 50th anniversary of the Avalon Cemetery in Soweto on Monday in a continuing protest against gun violence in Eldorado Park.

The protest by the Eldorado Park community has been going on for almost a month.

The protest escalated after two young men were gunned down on 10 September while they were walking down a street.

On 23 September, the Eldorado Park Community Policing Forum (CPF) announced the capture of three suspects aged 17, 22 and 31.

“On 22 September 2022, the team arrested three suspects including a minor for the murder of two victims aged 19 and 20 years old,” the Eldorado Park CPF announced.

Protesting Eldorado Park residents said they gatecrashed Monday’s event because their grievances were being ignored. They said the mayor’s response was long overdue.

Johannesburg Mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse stepped back on to the podium after her official speech to address the concerns of the community of Eldorado Park. Phalatse told the group that she would soon visit the area.

“I have been away, but I’m well aware of the challenges in Eldorado Park,” said Phalatse.

She said she had reached out to Gauteng Premier David Makhura regarding the urgent deployment of South African Police Service members in the area.

Phalatse said a team of Johannesburg Metro Police Department members had been deployed in the area last week. She added that corroboration between the various spheres of government was essential to deal with the challenges facing the community.

“We bury our children daily’

Community leader and activist Dereleen James said: “We are burying our children daily. We are coming here on a daily basis.”

James said they were pleading with the mayor’s administration to help the community fight gun violence and other challenges, particularly on the education front.

“You have left us with no option. We are not being disrespectful, but we just needed to show up and express our frustration,” James said.

The Eldorado Park community members carried placards with messages that included: “Stop gun violence”, “Guns down” and “Enough is Enough”.

The protest interrupted an event at which City Parks officials acknowledged there was widespread vandalism and a lack of security at Soweto’s three cemeteries — Avalon, Nancefield and Doornkop.

avalon cemetery

Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse at the 50th anniversary ceremony of Soweto’s Avalon Cemetery on 26 September 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

“The only issue that we are really asking for the city to intervene on is to ensure that when people go there to do their rituals at their gravesides, they can have the comfort of security,” said Mahlomola Kekana, who spoke on behalf of the community of Soweto.

Kekana said many of his late family members were buried at the Avalon Cemetery, while his grandparents were buried at the Nancefield Cemetery.

Phalatse said: “No matter what time of the year it is or what time of day, there are always people who come to the cemetery to leave a flower or a little rock on the headstone and it’s the job of the multiparty government, through our entity Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, to ensure that those coming here do so in a safe and secure manner.

“Security around Avalon Cemetery has been a burning issue for many many years. We have many times attempted to address this by reinstalling the fencing with new options; however, these options have also not been able to withstand continued theft and vandalism.


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“Most recently, we opted to plant green hedges around the cemetery in the hope that it would over time create a fence to contain opportunistic crime in the cemetery.

“We are working to ensure that mourners, visitors and tourists alike can remember their loved ones and icons in a safe and dignified manner.” 

Phalatse also emphasised the importance of preserving the history of the Avalon Cemetery. Struggle icons such as Tsietsi Mashinini, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and Hector Pieterson lie in its grounds.

“In August of 2010, the City of Johannesburg declared the graves of Struggle heroines Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph heritage sites, signifying our commitment to preserving our history,” Phalatse said.

City Parks and Zoo spokesperson Jeffrey Moloi said all graves were important, not just those of Struggle figures.

Moloi also condemned the theft and vandalism at the cemetery. Daily Maverick has reported on the ongoing theft, robberies and vandalism at the Avalon Cemetery.

Alan Buff, a horticultural specialist and long-serving member of Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, expressed concern about the historical legacy of the Nancefield Cemetery. He said that during the June 1976 uprising the offices of the Nancefield Cemetery were burnt down and all the records were lost.

A ‘slap in the face’ for Struggle icons – thieves and vandals trample the sacred history of Soweto’s Avalon Cemetery

“So, we have a problem of restoring the history. It’s going to be quite a feat to actually do it, but I think it’s worth it because many of the cadres are actually buried at the Nancefield Cemetery,” Buff said.

He said another major concern was burial space at the cemetery, and cremations might be the way of the future.

“We heard already this morning that over 300,000 people are buried here in Avalon Cemetery and it could actually be more because there are now second burials in the graves,” said Buff.

“The space will not last forever.” DM

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