Vandals have stripped the Jewish temple at the Muizenberg cemetery virtually bare – even making off with the burglar bars installed to protect it. Sigmund Saffer, president of the Muizenberg Hebrew congregation, said the temple had to be demolished as anything that could be removed, had been stolen.
He said some people had even used the two ceremonial basins in front of the temple to clean their fish. “They were beautiful carved basins with copper spigots which were used to gut fish. There would be scales everywhere.” Now mourners have to bring their own 20 litre barrels of water to wash their hands during burial ceremonies. Saffer said the temple, or Tahara hall, was built in the early 1920s. “In those days bodies were brought here to be prepared for burial.”
But now, the bodies were prepared elsewhere and only the coffin was brought to the temple which used to be able to accommodate between 30 and 40 people.
Saffer said the vandalism had been relentless over the past few years.
He said thieves broke in and stole the copper piping and 3m high teak doors.
“People started camping on the verandah around the temple so we put in a trellis door to try to stop that, but they stole that as well.”
Saffer said the only thing that could not be stolen was the concrete dome roof.
“It was beyond a joke. The insurers were laughing and so were the cops.”
He said that fixing the temple became too expensive so it was decided to demolish the structure.
The new plan is to build a concrete platform with a vandal-proof roof for mourners to use when they bury their loved ones.
But, until then, mourners just have to make do.
Susan Brice, cemetery co-ordinator in Cape Town’s parks department, said the city was unable to provide 24-hour security at its cemeteries as the cost would be prohibitive.
Larger cemeteries, she said, were more vulnerable to criminal activities such as theft and vandalism as surveillance was difficult and misconduct was less likely to be observed by neighbouring residents.
Brice said the city was considering vehicle patrols of the larger cemeteries, either by its own law enforcement department or by private security companies.
Another option being considered was security lighting using solar-powered lights because of cable theft.
She said that cemetery gates had been replaced and upgraded to prevent entry at night and staff had been asked to lock the gates of cemeteries overnight.
Brice said metal plaques had been removed from memorials in various cemeteries.
Granite slabs as well as electricity cables and light fittings had also been stolen.
She said they now suggested to people to consider plastic (brass look-alike) plates and lettering on memorial works and to avoid installing railings around graves.