Len Kalane

Len Kalane

The dirt-road splits the graveyard into two sections - the north-western area for whites, and on the south-east is the burial site reserved for blacks.

This is the segregated world of the dead, a classical apartheid-era setting and an imprint that will never fade and will be mulled over by those it affected and still affects - directly or indirectly.

In life and in death, South Africans have always lived in separateness, and this had to be endured for 46 years of apartheid rule. The born-free generation will be curiously amused by this, no doubt, or simply digest this with great disbelief or utter dismay, but back in the day the black man truly knew his place.

Of interest now is Randfontein, situated west of Johannesburg. Proclaimed a municipality in 1929, Randfontein was a proponent of a Slegs Blanke ideology permeating white South Africa. The residue of this indoctrination is still palpable in present day Randfontein.

Like-minded dorpiesdotted the geopolitical landscape throughout the country; of modern and rural towns deeply steeped in the misguided belief that a whites-only South African state would finally prevail.

Fast forward to 2009: the dirt-road is still there; the patch still divides the graveyard into two - the black and the white sections, a feature of our bitter past. This past has now come to haunt the present. A great number of graves have been flattened by apartheid officials. Simply put, there are no visible graves to visit as a result!

Interned in that part of the cemetery are what can be regarded as the forebears of Randfontein, the first generation inhabitants of Madubulaville, one of the pioneering black settlements of the early South African urbanisation period.

Madubulaville was finally relocated to Mohlakeng, and the so-called coloureds to Toekomsrus.

Madubulaville, like many others of the time, was declared a black spot and fell to the bulldozers under apartheid's forced removals programme. Forced removals began in the 1950s and in their wake millions of black families were displaced and robbed of either their birth or land rights, or both.

The fall of Madubulaville was soon to be followed by another apartheid-inspired assignment. This time the apartheid masters redirected the bulldozers to the black section of the cemetery then known as Randgate. The mission was simple as the order was loud and clear: "Go out there and clean up!"

After the task was carried out, where the graves once were the land was as flat as a pancake. Some tombstones survived, almost defiantly. In one fell swoop apartheid bulldozers had wiped off a community's history and all of its ancestral connection.

The problem doesn't seem to end there: after the graves were flattened, the layout map of the cemetery appears to have gone missing, and with it any form of identification, tossed away and lost forever in the melee, leaving next-of-kin desperate and confused - and very angry. This has also proved to be a king-size problem for the ANC administrators.

The records were probably lost or misplaced in the confusion of the 1994 political transition - or the last apartheid official to leave office failed or forgot to hand over the documents.

Across the road a mere political metres away, in contrast, are the white graves, untouched and intact. Corn-rows of well maintained grass run beautifully into carved pathways. Not so when you cast your glance to the opposite direction, the black side.

This state of affairs has left a bitter taste. The link between the living and the dead appears to have been severed. Black tradition demands visitations by the living to the dead, an age-old practice. Easter is upon us and a visit to the grave occupies a special place in black spirituality. There are no graves to visit, leaving families helpless, despondent.

The Randfontein municipality has called on families and other stakeholders to be part of the planned cemetery restoration project.

The struggle continues, in life and in death.