Soweto's Sandton doesn't want dead neighbours

Residents in upmarket Diepkloof Extension, the "Sandton of Soweto", are furious over what appears to be an imminent invasion by the dead.

A private cemetery is being built within sight of their palatial homes in Zone 5, just 18 months after they successfully opposed the building of the home for the dead on a site adjacent to the present one.

Soweto's elite - including football supremo and Orlando Pirates boss Irvin Khoza - have spent decades building up the suburb and are unlikely to accept declining property values lying down.

But the homeowners don't just fear an erosion in property prices; they say the cemetery's construction will cause a clash between Soweto residents' three main passions - funerals, soccer and shopping.

The cemetery site is just around the corner from the FNB stadium and the Rand Show grounds, while its entrance is opposite a major access road to the Southgate shopping mall, Soweto's main consumer centre.

Elsie Matina Khoza, wife of the SA Football Association vice-chairperson and Pirates boss, said the cemetery should not be allowed to open.

"We must stop it. We don't want the cemetery here. There's already a high volume of traffic to the soccer stadium and to Southgate using this (Rand Show) road. There is still plenty of space around. Why don't they build it elsewhere?" she asked.

But the project could already be past the point of no return. On Sunday, the fenced-off area - about 3 200m² - had a parking lot laid, with single-lane access roads of brick enclosing large, open areas of veld. Drains - a dreamt-of luxury for some Soweto residents - had also been installed to deal with run-off rainwater.

Some residents say traffic congestion is likely to be a problem when big soccer days clash with funerals.

But this isn't an isolated problem. The City of Johannesburg says on its official website that space for burials is at a premium, with projections that there will be no room for the dead in Johannesburg's cemeteries by 2009. Already about half of the city's cemeteries are full.

For Diepkloof residents, the situation could be worsened come the 2010 World Cup, soccer's biggest event, which will be hosted by South Africa in just five years' time. The expected large crowds are likely to contribute to an increase of traffic for the duration of the tournament.

Even on the best of days, the corner of Rand Show and Aerodrome roads is full of cars and delivery trucks going to Southgate or Aeroton, a major industrial area.

Traffic problems aside, residents have also expressed fears that the cemetery will attract the sort of criminals who regularly prey on mourners at funerals in Soweto's other cemeteries - Avalon, Dobsonville and Doornkop.

Gangster funerals, which often attract gun-wielding youths keen to show off their flashy cars and music systems, could also be a problem.

"They are building a fishpond for breeding criminals. There will be very little praying happening there," Diepkloof resident Joseph Mboweni said on Sunday.

Like other residents, Mboweni is annoyed at the secrecy that has surrounded the cemetery's construction.

No signs have been erected informing the public about who owns the cemetery or who the architects and construction companies are. No provision appears to have been made, in accordance with council by-laws, for residents to lodge objections to the development.

Around the corner, at Frank's Tavern, the place was alive with arguments about making space for the dead.

Clement Mangwedi believed the plan flew in the face of the need for community development, especially when the dead were to be accommodated in a major recreational zone.

"The project has no apparent long-term benefits. We don't want people making investments at our expense. The cemetery isn't something we can treasure. Our children also need to benefit," he said.

Xolisa Njokweni was angry that a private individual was apparently riding roughshod over residents' interests to make money out of death.

"It's a private cemetery. I believe one grave will cost at least R1 000. A private individual is making the community suffer for money," he said.

  • This article was originally published on page 3 of The Star on March 28, 2005

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