Tag: Edenvale

Rietfontein just wont go away.

Last year I was fortunate enough to do a lot of grave hunting in the Rietfontein area, and blogged about it on a number of occasions. For those that are not aware of it, this small piece of Johannesburg is the site of at least 4 cemeteries associated with the Rietfontein Infectious Diseases Hospital.

 

It is a very pristine and unchanged environment which is only really marred by people who use it as a dump site. There are also in excess of 7000 people buried on the site. I was able to catalogue 3 individual burial areas with headstones, but was unable to really know the extent of the burial areas, or where the other burial areas were situated. From what I read there was a Jewish Cemetery, a Plague Cemetery and a burial area where diseased animals were buried.  My last visit was in late November last year, and I recall that I did feel that all it really took was the wrong person at the wrong time with the wrong motive. 

 
The irony is that squatters will not even settle on this piece of land, so it must have something to hide? 
 
However, I did receive a link today that pointed to somebody who was going to develop on this site. There was mention of two schools, a community and youth centre, low cost housing, a police station and so forth. All, at no cost to the government. Assuming the link doesn’t go down you can read about it here . I can hear myself saying “I told you so” all the way in the UK! (Link still active 03/2016)
 
I won’t comment further, except to say that when they turn the soil I want to be very far away. I don’t know what the life of pathogens is like in soil, but I don’t think I would like to find out, because the people who are buried at Rietfontein did not die of old age, and it wasn’t called an infectious diseases hospital because they didn’t have another name for it. 
 
Let us see how far this goes. I bet that quite a few people are smiling all the way to the bank already. 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated and links repaired 09/03/2016

East Rand Cemeteries

There are a number of cemeteries on the East Rand that I haven’t visited, mainly because I don’t usually have a reason to go into that area. One of the reasons for my excursion on 2 January 2013 was an ongoing search for a grave of a soldier that was buried on the East Rand. Unfortunately we have no date, or positive location, but we have been trying to exclude a few places in our search.  
 
First on the list was Rietfontein Cemetery. This small African cem is not associated with the hospital of the same name that I had obsessed over late last year, in fact if you didn’t know it existed you would miss it altogether. The weather wasn’t great that day, it was grey and cold and damp and the cem was covered in long grass, making gravehunting difficult. Graves date from the 40’s and 50-‘s and there was a small Coloured and Asian area. The cem has also been called “Brickfields Road”, but the sign did read Rietfontein. 
  
 
It was obvious that we would not find our missing grave here so headed off to the next destination: Elsburg. Situated in Wadeville, this smallish cem has CWGC graves in it, as well as a large African area. It is in a reasonable condition, but many things about it are puzzling. 
 
It is difficult to know what this cem was originally, or whether it was a farm cemetery that was expanded. The oldest grave I saw was dated 1905, and there were at least 3 rows of graves without headstones that were very similar to those I had seen in some of the Concentration Camp cems. Vandalism has taken its toll though, and not too long ago there was a crime problem here. This cemetery does not have a good reputation. 

Sadly the only Angel I saw had been toppled, and many of the older headstones were not in too good a condition. Our missing grave was not here either, so I headed off to South Park Cem.
 
This cemetery became famous because this is where Chris Hani is buried. I always thought it was small cem, but I was surprised to see how big it was when I arrived. Of immediate interest was the SADF plot which has 21 graves in it. 
 
There were at least two funerals being held while I was there so I was not able to investigate the one area, but from what I could see this cemetery is rapidly filling up. It was also in a very good condition, and I could see workers  actively busy, even on this the second day of the new year. The grave of Chris Hani I found by accident, and again I had to ask the question; had he been alive today, what would have have said about the corruption, nepotism and incompetence of those in charge? His murder nearly plunged South Africa into a bloodbath.
I did a quick walk around, but there weren’t many artistic headstones that appealed to me, if anything this cem is very similar to West Park in that it has many graves, but very little character. Cemeteries often mirror the society that they are a part of, and the older they are, the more character that they have. South Park has not reached that point yet. I also noted that it had been renamed to Thomas Titus Nkobi Memorial Park. 
 
That concluded my first gravehunting session of the new year, and I was off home. I was able to find one previously unknown grave which made it worthwhile, and I am happy to add 3 more cemeteries to my list. My next expedition? I don’t know, but it could be that the next time I report back from a cemetery it may be in another country. 
 
And, just to remind me of what was going to happen at the end of February….
 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016

Rietfontein: the last word.

To say that Rietfontein and its cemeteries has been an obsession these past few weeks would be telling the truth. What started out as a excursion to photograph a few graves turned into a whole series of discoveries. 

My recent excursion, on Sunday 27th November, was to find the cemetery on the eastern bank of the river. Poor weather made me wary of taking a walk, but in the end the day turned out to be quite pleasant, if not a bit hot and steamy. I was not too sure of where the cem was, but was working off information off Google Earth, as well as what Dave had told me. Finding the river was easy enough, it pops out from under the highway and rambles more or less parallel with the highway until it reaches a bridge which I then had to cross to be on the highway (eastern bank) side of the river. 

Once over that bridge I then had to cross a small stream a bit further on that flowed into the river before coming to the area where the cemetery was supposed to be. Early Google Earth images revealed that this was a grove of trees prior to the March 2004 image. Since then the trees were cut down and fires had burnt the stumps down to small black projections that can easily be mistaken for headstones. The area was flat with an embankment on one side and the river on the other.  In the distance was Sizwe Hospital, Edenvale Hospital and Modderfontein Road. 
 
Headstones were scarce, and finding them was very difficult as most were toppled and hidden in the grass. Sometimes there was only a slab or the remains of a headstone. I could only pick up five identifiable headstones, with roughly 8 grave remains, there were probably a few mounds present too. These graves dated from about the turn of the century, the oldest seemed to be 1898. Given their position in relation to the hospitals and river I suspect these may be from the original Rietfontein farm. 
 
Having taken my pics I head up towards the hospital to investigate two structures that we originally thought were 2 crematoria. However, on closer inspection it seems that they were probably incinerators.
 
My next target was the “terraces”. There are two sets of these, one is a very large area and is between the end of the hospital and Linksfield Road. My original thoughts were that these may be related to erosion control, but the fact that it is rumoured that between 7000 and 10000 people are buried in this area leads credence to this being one of two possible mass graves site. From the ground there is not much to see to prove or disprove anything, 

One of the terraces, looking South East

My verdict is “inconclusive”, but that is just because I cannot see any physical evidence of  this being a gravesite. I investigated the other terrace which is below what we call “Rietfontein 4/4” and returned to the burnt log that I mentioned in the previous blog post about that area. Again the only  comment I can make is “inconclusive”. However, if I look at the Google Earth images of the hospital I see similar terraces inside the grounds, and this makes me return to my original hypothesis about them being some sort of erosion control.
I then returned to try ascertain the extent of Rietfontein 4;  in my previous investigation I had found that this African section was roughly within a square block of trees, but there was no real way to know how many graves were here. There are at least 30 graves with headstones,  which extend for quite a long distance down the hill towards the terraces.
Looking North from the corner of Rietfontein 4

Looking North from the corner of Rietfontein 4

What I did discover was possibly the Southern boundary of the cemetery; a row of quartz stones were propped equidistant in at least 3 rows. This was not a natural occurrence, but it did give me some indication of  where the cems starts, and where it ends.  Numbers? I don’t know. There is no real way of knowing. An early GE image revealed what looked like rows within this area, and they extend in a northerly direction and based on that I can surmise that this area alone may hold as many as a 1000 graves.  Some of the graves date from the 20’s to 50’s, although the upper boundary of this area did reveal one previously unseen stone which was dated 1906, and had the number 49 on it. 
There is also one very tantalising marker there, a small simple rusty cross with “Mabena” stamped into it. In my reading I had seen metal markers mentioned, but so far this was the only one I had actually seen in any of cemeteries in this site. We have to thank the those idiots who stole the markers for ruining any chance that there may have been of knowing how many are buried here. 
 
 
The records I have from a possible headstone transcription for what we now call “Rietfontein 2” revealed that there were 8 identifiable headstones and 4 unidentified ones (one of which was toppled), 12 graves are not accounted for (no headstone found), of which we can allocate 4 of the toppled stones to, which means there are still at least 8 graves still unfound in the area of Rietfontein 2. They have probably been  buried under builders rubble.
 
That pretty much wound up Rietfontein, and until such time as we can find more information there isn’t much to do except wait for Winter when the grass is short, or a fire which which will reveal a lot about what is buried in the undergrowth. It has been an interesting journey,  and I feel that at least now we know more about the cemeteries here, and can at least name some of the people that came to rest here, probably killed by diseases that today we can combat. 
There are more questions though, but I don’t think the answers are within our reach.  There is no doubt that this is a very pretty unspoilt area, but who knows what is buried underneath the grass there, all it really takes is for an unscrupulous developer and a bulldozer to ruin it forever. 
 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016