Grave robbers target local cemetery


Alzane Narrain

The British plot in the President Brand Cemetery in Bloemfontein has become the target of vandals who have systematically started removing the cast-iron grave markers over the past 12 to 18 months. This is according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that people who have died in the two world wars will never be forgotten by taking care of the war cemeteries and memorial sites.

“It is suspected that the grave markers are removed from the cemetery and sold as scrap metal to local scrap dealers in Bloemfontein or surrounding areas. In all probability the markers are cut into smaller pieces which may make it difficult to identify,” says Charles Ross, Secretary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s South African Agency. With assistance from the Mangaung Municipality the plot was completely renovated in 2009. The main memorial was cleaned and repaired and a rose garden was established on the four corners of the main memorial.

In addition 250 of the original cast-iron grave markers were found at the War Museum of the Boer Republics and in the absence of a grave register were erected around the main memorial.  According to Ross he estimates that about 160 have been removed since 2009. He further added that he believes the bulk of the crosses were removed in the past year. The cast-iron grave markers will be replaced with ordinary steel markers.

“Those cast-iron grave markers were casted individually because each had the person’s number, rank, name, regiment and date of death on it. What we replace it with does not compare to the historical significance the cast-iron grave markers had and is not worth anything,” explains Ross.  Ross would like people to report these types of grave thefts to the police, especially scrap dealers who buy. “People don’t realise they are stealing a piece of our country’s history for very little. We are losing a lot of historical details and cannot commemorate those who have died,” says Ross.