Vagrants must respect the dead, says SAHRC’s Chris Nissen

The Rylands Gatesville Civic Association says vagrants should not be permitted to camp in the Vygieskraal cemetery.

SA Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen has vowed to personally ask vagrants in a Rylands cemetery to clear out and respect the dead.

This after a local civic group accused the City of failing to protect the municipal Vygieskraal cemetery from vagrancy, theft and vandalism.

Salima Modack, executive member of the Rylands Gatesville Association, says vagrants sleeping in the graveyard are to blame for theft and vandalism there. The problem dates back to 2017 and grew worse about a year ago when the vagrants started camping next to the cemetery in Johnstone Road, Rylands, she says.

“There is no police or law enforcement around to protect the land and the cemetery. The vagrants are jumping over the wall of the neighbouring vacant land into the cemetery,” she said.

A civic groups say vagrants are to blame for theft and vandalism in the Vygieskraal cemetery.

Abdullah Salie, the chairman of the Vygieskraal Cemetery Board, said the vagrants had started sleeping inside the cemetery two weeks’ ago, and they were littering and urinating there.

He accused them of stealing wooden grave markers to make fires.

“At the moment, it’s calmed down a bit, and we are hoping that it stays that way. This has been an issue since last year already, and the City keeps evicting them but they come back,” he said.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, the Disaster Management Act prohibited the City from evicting anyone or demolishing shelters during the pandemic, and many residents had unfortunately had to suffer the consequences of that regulation.

He said Mr Nissen had “played a huge part” in stopping the City from removing vagrants and their structures.

“And the setting up of informal structures has thus been on the increase,” Mr Smith said. “It is not possible for law enforcement to be stationed at one specific place. If crimes are being committed, it is the duty of SAPS to deal with it.”

However, Mr Nissen said the City could not hide behind the commission to let vagrants vandalise property and commit theft.

“They must not be selective about who they can and can’t evict. The Human Rights Commission condemns any person who goes into sacred places and vandalises it. The dead too have rights, and they are supposed to be resting in peace. I will personally go and ask the vagrants to vacate the cemetery and tell them to respect the deceased,” he said.