There were two reasons to visit the Old Roodepoort Cemetery, the first was to find the CWGC graves, of which there were 7 as well as 1 Rand Revolt grave. I was not looking forward to this cemetery as it is situated in a less than safe area of Roodepoort and has somewhat of a reputation as a hang out of squatters, tramps and other elements. However, my curiosity also kicked in because this is quite an old cemetery too, and probably has a lot of history behind it.
The cemetery is situated at Google Earth co-ordinates 26° 9.971’S 27° 52.427’E
It is difficult to pin down when I made my first visit to the cemetery as I have been there on a number of occasions, but by the looks of it my first visit occurred on 02/08/2008 which is the date I am tagging this post to. It would have been a Sunday too as I was not living on the West Rand at the time.
My first impression was “Trap”. The cemetery has a well defined set of concrete roads in it, and you enter in one gate and exit out another, but the roads are so narrow that turning around is almost impossible, and once committed to a path you are stuck in it until you exit, or you have to mount the pavement to turn around or reverse the whole way back. It is the perfect place for a car jacking or mugging. I had a vague idea where the graves were, but they were a mix of standard headstones and CWGC stones. I would photograph what I could and then split as fast as I could and then decide what to do.
Like so many of these small cemeteries it is divided up into distinct areas/religions and has an attached “non-European” area and a separate Muslim cemetery behind it. The DR section being the one closest to the entrance and was the most treed of them all. It is not an ugly cemetery, but a lack of maintenance and the litter and vandalised headstones and buildings leave it looking somewhat dingy and grubby. The office (or what is left of it) is no longer manned and probably hasn’t been for years. The “non-European” section is really just a plot of ground with a few headstones. The CWGC one probably being the one in the best condition of all. It is separated from the “European” area by trees.
I recall struggling to find some of the private memorials and as I neared the exit I got more tense as there were a group of squatters in the area of the cemetery where I still had some graves to find, I usually try to keep close to my car too, but given how difficult it is in this cemetery I was even more concerned and decided to bring somebody with me next time around.
The Jewish section is a small block set close to the main gate with a small office dedicated to it. At some point this building got vandalised and when I was last there it had also had a fire and was really just a shell with a collapsing roof.
The Muslim Cemetery associated with the Old Roodepoort Cemetery is behind the cemetery, but not accessible through it as a railway line crosses between the two cemeteries.
It is somewhat of a barren place, but still worthy of a quick look. Sadly though the area is also somewhat dangerous and I did not tarry too long.
One grave in the Muslim Cemetery that does stand out is that of Ahmed Timol who fell to his death from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square on the afternoon of October 27 1971. He is one of 8 detainees that lost their lives as a result of their detention at John Vorster Square.
At some point the cemetery must have been getting full and the “New Roodepoort Cemetery” was opened in what is now Braamfischerville. I had graves in that one to find too and was just as concerned when I visited it for the first time. It was not an ugly cemetery and had some really nice headstones, but the area was dodgy and I was a bit apprehensive about straying too far from the office or my car. I have to admit though, the staff there were very helpful and re-assured me that I would be safe as long as I did not venture too far away. (I have removed the prices from the sign below as they may no longer be correct. Image is from 2011).
One of the key features of this cemetery was a small ABW plot that held the graves and a memorial to members of the 1st Bn Gordon Highlanders who lost their lives at Doornkop on 29 May 1900.
I found the graves I was after quite easily, and the SADF era graves. During a later visit I explored the cemetery a bit further and was able to find 2 more Border War graves. Unfortunately though I did spend most of my time looking behind my back.
On my last visit the cemetery had expanded considerably and graves were encroaching on the SADF and military plot, but it is difficult to know what the situation is now.
There are a number of small cemeteries out on the West Rand, ranging from Maraisburg Cemetery, to the small cemetery in Florida as well as the small one in Davidsonville, Hamburg, and Horizonview and these two associated with Roodepoort.
I do not know why these places have been seemingly abandoned by those tasked with looking after them, technically they are fenced, but the fences mean nothing as long as there are no gates. I do feel for the families of those buried here though; visiting some of these places is downright dangerous, and as the demographics changed so access became much more problematic. Fortunately I was able to photograph the war graves so they have been documented, but a part of me still asks how many more Border War graves are in the New Roodepoort cemetery, I guess I will never know.
DRW, © 2008-2022. Created retrospectively 25/05/2016, updated with more pics 27/11/2020.