Amongst the many cemeteries that I photographed for the South African War Graves Project was Maraisburg Cemetery on the West Rand. There were four CWGC casualties in the cemetery, and there was also a small ABW Plot which was strange in itself.
The cemetery may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates 26° 10.874’S, 27° 56.514’E, and is very close to Maraisburg Station.
It is however worth noting that this area does have a crime problem so I was taking quite a risk being there in my own. I went through to it during my lunch break at work, the intention being to grab my pics and scarper as fast as I could once I was done. Naturally, the best made plans of mice and men often go awry
Like so many smaller cemeteries this one had fallen on hard times. Situated in what was a working class/industrial/mining area it had been neglected and left to remain in limbo, with only occasional visits by those responsible for its upkeep. The rest of the time it was the abode of tramps, drug dealers, amateur vandals and the usual n’er-do-wells. I was hoping that my flying visit would avoid all of those. The big problem was that there was only one recognisable CWGC headstone amongst them all, the other three were all private memorials so would not be that easy to find. I am certain that I did have a rough map provided by the local CWGC agency, but cannot find it at this moment
Way back then I was still shooting with a very primitive Kodak digital camera and the images were not all that great, but it was all I could afford at the time and it served the purpose. The cemetery was divided into 2 distinct areas on either side of the road that led from the abandoned main gate. There were not too many headstones, but that did not mean the cemetery was empty, it just meant that there were a lot of unmarked graves.
The Boer War plot was strange, this was not the place where I expected to find ABW graves, and judging by what I saw new headstones had been erected in front of the original steel military style crosses. Sadly many of the new headstones were already toppled, and looking at the headstones it seems as if they were never very well constructed in the first place. It is inevitable that those steel crosses would be stolen anyway, and it was amazing that they were still there even in 2008.
I photographed the graves and managed to hunt down my other CWGC graves and prepared to make tracks as fast as my little yellow car could carry me. Yet, a part of me wanted to explore a bit further and I headed for a gap in the back fence. Like so many other things in the old South Africa the cemeteries were segregated, not only by religion, but also by race, and the gap in the fence led me to what was probably the African section.
I did not venture deeply onto this area because it would have taken me a bit too far from my car. But, I have often wondered who these people were that were buried here. There is so little information available on these cemeteries that you can only really guess as to what the history is behind this sparsely covered piece of of land.
Then it was time to go. I had my 4 graves and an overview and we could chalk this cem up as having been done.
Return to Maraisburg.
The problem with a place like this is that you always wonder what you may have missed, and I returned there on a number of occasions, partly out of curiosity, and partly because I I needed to see whether there were other private memorials that we did not know about. I also think curiosity was to blame too, because I really enjoy walking these rows of graves and trying to create some sort of mental image of what the community may have been like. This was quite an old cemetery, and there were graves here that probably pre-dated the Boer War, I never did feel safe here though, I was always aware of potentially how dangerous this place was, but in all the times I visited it I never saw another person.
The Boer War Plot was redone again at some point, the toppled headstones had been straightened and it was looking much better than before.
This image dates from August 2011, and it was still winter so the grass was dry and the light was great from photography. My Kodak had been pensioned off a long time ago and my new camera was a major improvement.
The big question is: does Maraisburg have any angels?
Yes it does, and here she is.
and, she was surprisingly intact too.
The Autumn and Winter light has always been my favourite, and even a place like Maraisburg Cemetery looks great in it. I took a lot of really nice photographs during my 2011 visit, and these are a few.
Even that barren patch that was the African Cemetery was looking better. A fire had ravaged the undergrowth not too long ago, so new grass would soon be emerging again in the continuous cycle that is so typical of Johannesburg.
Not too far from the cemetery is a neglected War Memorial that I only discovered after taking the wrong turning.
It was all a part of this area that was once inhabited by miners and their families. Today it is neglected and run down and the mines are shades of their former selves. The fact remains that because these areas are not situated in the Northern Suburbs they are relatively unknown by the heritage community, and it is only once you start to explore that you discover that they too have history, and that it too deserves to be preserved. If it had not been for the project I would have probably never ventured into the Cemetery, but it was really the first of a number of similar small cemeteries that I visited while photographing war graves, and they were all worthy of exploring.
© DRW 2008-2018. Retrospectively created 24/04/2016.