Hearings on access to graves

LEPHALALE — The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) conducted hearings on the access to burial sites/graves in Lephalale last week.

The hearings were held on 12 and 13 April, with complainants sharing experiences they suffered in respective farms and local land in general.

The CRL Commission says the purpose of the hearing was, among other things, to investigate complaints related to the disrespect of the departed and the denial of the right of access to ancestral graves.

Most complaints indicated that the rights of some communities have been compromised due to challenges like:

  • The right to access farms denied by some farm owners whose farms are private property.
  • The historically forced removal policies of the past that separated some people from the burial places of their ancestors.
  • The reality of many farm murders in SA and some farmers say that they fear for their safety if they allow strangers on their farms.
  • Due to economic development, various mines, shopping centres and residential properties are being built everywhere and some are being built on top of old graves.
  • Municipalities are running short of burial places and they have adopted the policies of recycling or cremation.
  • The lack of burial land even leads to some people being kept in mortuaries for a long time.
  • While there are existing pieces of legislations about the preservation of graves, some government employees disregard it.
  • The issue of land ownership.

Families from Marapong, Steenbokpan and Swartwater attended the hearings.

In Marapong, a widow whose husband was buried in 2009, requested the municipality to spare some space so that when she dies she can be buried next to her deceased husband.

She told the CRL that the municipality didn’t meet her request and someone else was buried in the space she requested and the spared space isn’t what she requested.

In Steenbokpan, the families complained about exhumation of bodies of their departed family members that happened without consulting them.

In Swartwater, the families say they have been denied access to graves and recently learnt that the graves were destroyed and a house built on them. The Waterberg Environmental Justice Forum (WEJF) represented them and introduced them to the commission.

On Friday, Acting Executive Manager Social Services, Lesibana Thobane, Acting Municipal Manager Gerben Makgamatha and Acting Mayor William Motlokwa from Lephalale Municipality attended the hearing and noted concerns against the municipality.

Agri SA Limpopo formed part of invited organisations to make presentations.

CRL Commissioner Professor David Mosoma told Mogol Post that their attention to problems in Lephalale was caught by residents who complained about the construction of a power station on their family’s grave sites in the Steenbokpan area. Mosoma says the commission embarked on trips in South Africa to troubled places.

“We had community engagement as part of Section 07 which is mandated by our own act, where we meet and have hearings that are followed by written reports. So far, we have been to Durban and Lephalale,” he said.

According to him a report, which will be presented to parliament for recommendations, will follow after the hearings.

The commission noticed that among the challenges behind accessibility to graves in farms included the safety of farmers. The farmers are willing to work with affected communities but cannot let anyone into their farms due to the dangers of farm attacks.

In addition, Mosoma says the process will take approximately six months as they compile reports and ultimately will present them before parliament.

“This does not mean that we will not be engaging with affected communities within this six month period. We will be making arrangements and request farmers to work with community on accessing their farms for rituals and other ancestral practices.”

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