When I originally photographed the CWGC graves in Brixton, Braamfontein and Westpark, it was inevitable that I would end up having to photograph graves in the Jewish section of these 3 cemeteries. Unfortunately, accessing the first two was problematic as they were always locked and well cared for.
In 2011 things changed. The buildings in both of these cemeteries were demolished and suddenly the gates were gone. Unfortunately that also meant that the random vandals, squatters and metal thieves had access to everything inside these formerly closed off areas, and deterioration is the result.
Brixton Jewish Cemetery Feb 2012.
To exacerbate matters, the fence around Brixton has literally been stolen, there are huge gaps where before a well maintained fence used to be, now access is through anywhere, including the front gate. Granted, grass is being cut by those responsible for it, but it is very worrying to see the many toppled stones, where before there never were any. Braamfontein is still “fenced”, but the gate is gone. Of the two cemeteries Braamfontein is historically the more important of the two and as such should be protected.
Braamfontein Jewish Cemetery June 2008
There are a lot of pre-1900 headstones in Braamfontein, and an extensive children’s plot, sadly numbering and names have been lost so finding a specific grave in these large children’s plots could be a matter of guesswork.
Children’s plot. Braamfontein Jewish cemetery.
The balance of the cemetery is still in a reasonable condition, although it is one of those places where you have to watch where you are going or you will fall over something. The headstones are spaced very closely and getting any distance from them for photography is difficult. The one side closest to the fence is heavily treed and some graves cannot even be seen amongst the trees and bushes. There is also evidence of squatters making their home here, and litter is a problem.
Yet, in spite of their sparseness I found these two cemeteries very interesting, unlike the general areas of the cemetery which is a hodge podge of people, these are the visible history of a community with its own customs and traditions. The demolishing of the two buildings was the beginning of the end for the sanctuary of these two places, and unless something gets done quickly we could find they decline so rapidly that reversing it will be impossible.
Already the office at the small Roodepoort Jewish plot has been vandalised to the point where it will fall down without any outside help, or get carted off piece by piece. However, that cemetery is already in a poor condition, and nobody really seems to care anymore.
Roodepoort old cemetery Jewish Plot
It is sad that this history just doesn’t seem to be relevant any longer, it is all fine and well preserving these places, but who do we preserve them for? Realistically the only people with an interest, are those who have families buried within the confines of the cemeteries, or genealogists, or people like me who find solace and history amongst the legions who rest all around them.
Postscript. October 2012.
I was contacted by somebody that I had done some photography in Brixton for, he asked that I go check the cemetery as there were reports that it had been heavily vandalised. He was correct.
Roughly 100 headstones had been toppled, either as an anti-Semitic attack, or random vandals who had too much to drink. There was no way to know. Unfortunately, the grave of his family member was amongst those that had been toppled. I reported back on my findings, and by the time I left South Africa the fence had been renewed and access to the Jewish Cemetery was no longer possible. It was a little bit too late for those toppled graves.
Looking over the fence, March 2017
© DRW 2012-2021. Images recreated 24/03/2016