City Parks and Zoo protect Joburg heritage at cemeteries

Monday, 06 January 2014

Amid the quiet surrounds of the city's cemeteries, history buffs are sure to find a wealth of information on former residents and Joburg's rich heritage.


While many city residents only visit Johannesburg's cemeteries when they lay loved ones to rest, the Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo encourages amateur historians to take a tour of the city's cemeteries.


Have a look at these historical cemeteries, and plan your next trip to discover more of our rich heritage.


Avalon Cemetery 

On Tshabuse Street, in Chiawelo in Soweto, Avalon Cemetery is the final resting place for many prominent personalities and heroes of the liberation struggle, including Joe Slovo, Helen Joseph, the African National Congress's Lilian Ngoyi, and Zephania Mothopeng, the fiery leader of the Pan African Congress. Tsietsi Mashinini, a hero of the 1976 uprisings, and Hector Pieterson, a victim of the 1976 uprisings, are buried at Avalon. A memorial to the victims of the 1976 uprisings has also been erected here. Avalon Cemetery also houses the Mendi Memorial, built in memory of soldiers who died when the ship Mendi sank in February 1917.


Braamfontein Cemetery

Moving north to the inner city, Braamfontein Cemetery, on the corner of Graaff and Smit streets, houses the dynamite explosion monument, a granite memorial dating from 1896. It was erected in memory of the some 71 people who died in an explosion at the Braamfontein Train Station on 19 February 1896. The cemetery also houses a memorial to Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, who composed South Africa’s national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika; he died in 1905 aged 32. 


Valliammai Munuswami Mudliar and Swami Nagappen, activists in Mahatma Gandhi’s passive resistance movement, are also buried here.


The cemetery also houses a section of unmarked pauper’s graves. These were recently discovered to be those of the miners from the 1922 Miner’s Strike. Not far from here are the graves of the once-infamous Foster Gang, which gripped the public’s imagination with a wild chase and shoot-out with the police in 1914.


Brixton Cemetery

Northwest of Braamfontein Cemetery is the historically significant Brixton Cemetery, in Crouse Street and along Brixton Drive; it was laid out in 1912. A war monument near the main entrance commemorates South Africans who died in the First World War. Along the main drive, there is a second First World War monument in memory of the South African Scottish regiment. The cemetery houses Africa's first Hindu crematorium, built in 1918 after social activist Gandhi negotiated with the town council for the structure to be built there. A brick, gas-fired crematorium was built in 1956 and is still in use. Mary Fitzgerald, Johannesburg’s deputy mayor in 1915 and after whom the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown is named, is also buried in the Brixton Cemetery. 


Newclare Cemetery

Further northwest of Brixton Cemetery, on the corner of Maraisburg and Commando roads in Bosmont, the Newclare Cemetery houses the Walter Sisulu Memorial Park, in memory of the former veteran leader of the African National Congress and mentor to former president Nelson Mandela.


The cemetery was built in 1934 and is available to the Westbury, Newlands and Riverlea communities. It also houses a Chinese and a Muslim section.


Westpark Cemetery

At Westpark Cemetery, on Beyers Naudé Drive in Montgomery Park, lie the graves of some of South Africa’s most famous sons and daughters. These include struggle veteran Alfred Nzo, democratic South Africa’s first minister of foreign affairs; Joe Modise, former commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the first minister of defence in post-apartheid South Africa; and child HIV/Aids activist, Nkosi Johnson.


Managed and maintained by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, the cemeteries are snapshots of the city's varied history and are regarded as heritage sites. They provide peaceful and beautiful resting places for city residents' beloved departed friends and relatives.


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