Marie-Lais Emond
2 minute read
3 Jun 2017
6:21 am

The quiet graves each tell a story

Marie-Lais Emond

Westpack: A cemetery for the famous and not-so-famous

Corner Beyers Naude Drive and West Park Road, Montgomery Park. Picture: Heather Mason

‘Whose is that?” It’s a grave without a headstone, quite barren, remarkably different to those surrounding it.

It is dwarfed by magnificent necro-palaces of polished granite. We’re in the High Profile Area of Westpark cemetery.

Xolile of City Parks drops to the verge of a nearby grave and looks it up in a huge tome.

“It’s that of Hermanus Loots.”

We all look at each other. We shake our heads. In this feature area of bright spotlights and mirror-polished stonework, the graves are those of media personalities, sports heroes, musicians and political stalwarts like Joe Mafela, Gugu Zulu our racing driver-mountain climber, “Bra Vic” Ntoni the jazz legend and Joe Modise.

None of us realised at that point that Loots was actually James Stuart, lying there near Modise.

Although Stuart was Loots’ MK name, it’s the one most people know him by, especially for his brave Stuart Report into the mutiny among MK soldiers in Angola, where Modise wanted to have the mutineers killed, believing them to be apartheid-backed.

Stuart proved they were genuinely unhappy with their lot and saved their lives. Stuart, as Loots, came from a little-known part of our geography, the Kat River Valley.

The other grave that is not an edifice here is the recent one of Ahmed Kathrada, the only Muslim in the cemetery not buried in the Muslim section. Next to Kathrada’s grave is a monument to Beyers Naude.

His remains were fetched from the Wall of Remembrance to feature among the High Profiles. I ask Xolile which is his favourite grave.

“I prefer ones indicating we are all equal, like the Common War Graves.”

Over this end it is indeed more visually quiet. Heather and I also visit the poignant but rather beautiful graves of the schoolchildren who died in the Westdene Dam so close by.

We then venture among older graves but a security guard reminds us that, with the sun setting, it might not be safe. Back, behind one of the entrance buildings is a picturesque pond.

I turn and see three elderly tomb statues seemingly queuing at the back door.

One is a bronze pieta, one a Jesus with a flaming heart, one a saint, I think.

They remind me about people who had wealth when they died and whose graves celebrate it and those that don’t.

  • Corner Beyers Naude Drive and West Park Road, Montgomery Park


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