Looking back I think my love of cemeteries initially started with my Nan taking us along with her to clean my Oupa’s grave in the Kimberley cemetery. While she painstakingly cleaned his grave we played amongst the graves and collected the tiny green ball-like cones off the distinctive smelling Conifer trees – to this day they are still what I always refer to as cemetery trees yet there don’t seem to be many if any in the cemeteries I frequent here in Joburg. I’ll let you in on a little secret – West Park has Jacaranda lined streets which are wonderful to photograph during their flowering season.
When we moved to Hillbrow after the divorce of my parents, my Mom would take us to the Braamfontein Cemetery and leave us there to play and explore or just to use up some of our youthful energy. My brother would take great joy in scaring the living hell out of my sister and I while we waited at the main gate, as the sun was setting, for my mom to fetch us. Well that should have put me off but instead I took my kids to explore and ride their bicycles in West Park Cemetery when they were growing up.
My Nan is buried in West Park cemetery and after she had passed I would often visit her grave to chat, to think or just for the tranquillity of the place but then it became too unsafe to visit and I stopped. Years later I met and got chatting about my love of cemeteries to Jane O’Connor on a heritage tour of – you’ve guess it – the cemeteries in Soweto.
She told me of the group she belonged to who did recording of tombstones and that I should join them. At that stage they were working in the Germiston cemetery which did not hold much interest for me, and it was only when I heard they had moved to West Park that I considered joining the SEWFHS (South East Witwatersrand Family History Society). The SEWFHS was started in 1988 by a small group of people interested in genealogy and they have recorded well over nine hundred thousand graves which anyone can access on the eGSSA (Genealogical Society of SA) website. You can read up more on them here http://www.sewfamhistory.wordpress.com. or check out their Facebook page.
I had taken a long break from the group for a number of personal reasons but as they are now heading toward the end of documenting West Park I felt this was a great time to spend some time with them. It felt like I had not taken anytime away from the group – fitting right back in – and after catching up we got stuck into photographing the grave stones to the sounds of prayer, music from brass bands, school/church bands, recorded songs with special meanings to those left behind, pastors delivering their scriptures in a powerful or singing voices – it really gives one the time to reflect how fortunate you are.
We stopped for tea halfway through the task at hand and then for lunch at the end under the shade of the trees, this group is so well organised with everything but the kitchen sink. Time to chat, download photo’s ready to be sent off to the eGSSA, while ice cream and candy floss sellers cycle around the large amount of mourners. The cemetery was busier than a shopping mall yesterday – sadly, so many funerals that I got stuck in a traffic jam just to get out of West Park,
If you feel that you are a Taphophile or just a Tombstone Tourist with a love of taking photographs you might want to join this group and contribute towards the database that has assisted so many in finding where family have been laid to rest.