Soweto Sojourn. 12-10-2011

When I first saw the list of graves that had to be photographed for the South African War Graves Project (aka SAWGP), I knew that sooner or later I would reach a point where I would no longer have graves to photograph in the more accessible cemeteries in Johannesburg. And, there are at least 5 in Gauteng that are questionable visits. After much planning I decided to eliminate at least one more of these and Nancefield was the destination.
I had visited Soweto before, covering Avalon Cemetery as well as the Hector Pietersen Museum, both of which are really interesting places to see. Avalon is an experience though, its huge, and it is a mass of graves in all directions, but it has a simplicity that I really like, and its also the resting place of a number of famous Africans. For me though, finding Hector Pietersens grave was still a defining moment, and photographing the Mendi Memorial was very special. 

Avalon Cemetery

My untrustworthy GPS sent me on a wild goose chase as usual, but I had driven this road before so knew more or less where I was going. Nancefield Cem is almost on the intersection of Klipspruit Valley Road and Chris Hani Road, in fact the latter bisects the cemetery in two pieces. My aim, six World War Two graves, were in the  main half of the cemetery. Alas, my GPS was playing the goat and I ended up riding around a veritable maze of houses and tiny streets, the cemetery within shouting distance, but not accessible through that route. Eventually I extricated myself and retraced the route till I found what I was after. Of course, the gate was not easy to find either!

This is NOT the vehicle gate. It’s actually to the right of this fence

I didn’t really know what to expect here, my Google Earth view didn’t really show much aside from small rectangles, and from experience a cemetery can be anything from a jungle to a well manicured lawn with graves. Nancefield was neither of these, it wasn’t too big, the grass had been cut, there were a few trees and overall it was clean and well tended. My CWGC graves are easy to spot if you know what to look for, and my companion had eagle eyes and spotted 4 out of the 6 graves I was after. There is something satisfying about finding a set of these war graves, I always think of it as “bringing them back home”.  I know how it feels to finally get a photograph of the final resting place of a loved one who was lost in the war, my one uncle is buried in Heliopolis in Egypt, and thanks to SAWGP his sister and myself were able to see his grave. That is why I take photographs of war graves, because it is important, its something we do for the future, and for the past.

Then it was time to go, and we set the GPS for Doornkop Cemetery. I wasn’t too sure what we would find there. I was hoping to be able to find missing Jameson Raid graves, data indicates that at least 3 of the raiders ended up in “Doornkop Cemetery”, but I don’t think it is this one because it wasn’t an established cemetery when the Jameson Raid happened. Still, it was worth looking. Along the way I spotted the Regina Mundi Catholic Church which is a name synonymous with the 1976 riots and events around the anti-apartheid struggle. I never had a lot of time to look around here, but maybe one day I will return.

Regina Mundi Church

Regina Mundi Church

Doornkop Cemetery was a surprise, its a big one, and it’s well tended, I did not see signs of vandalism or neglect in it and I was pleasantly surprised. Inquiries at the office drew a blank regarding my Jameson Raiders, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in the area. It just means we don’t know where they are! I liked the way the yellow dandelion flowers were blooming in some of the areas of the cemetery, and, given the glorious weather, it made for a pretty picture.


Then it was time to head up the road to Dobsonville Cemetery, another unknown as no real information is available. When we arrived the gate was closed, but we were able to open it and drive in and again I was surprised, well maintained, very little vandalism, clean and tidy. The one commonality that Avalon, Dobsonville and Doornkop do have though are the many steel ‘cots” that are found around many of the graves. They were originally used to fend off marauding animals, and somehow the practice hasn’t quite died out, although City Parks does discourage it.  It’s a pretty cemetery though, and I saw quite a few newish stones there, but it was doubtful I would find any soldiers and after a few pics it was time to go. 
A  quick stop at New Roodepoort Cemetery and then it was time to go home. Mission accomplished. These 3 cemeteries I did today are places that very few white people ever see, and for that matter, so is Soweto. Yet, in the 4 trips I have made to Soweto I have really been impressed by a lot of what I have seen. Granted, some of the roads are in the same deplorable state as all of Johannesburg’s roads, but the area is interesting. Spaza shops abound, and the small houses have a well tended look about them, the shopping areas are bustling, and there are people about. Children are playing in the streets and the elderly are sitting on their stoeps. Why don’t I see this in the areas where I live? Possibly the biggest blight on the landscape are the taxis, but then they are maniacs all over the place, and I wonder how many of them have contributed to many of the graves I had seen today.
DRW © 2011-2021. Links repaired 20/05/2015, Images recreated 19/03/2016
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