While Muslims have managed to preserve the history of Islam within the Cape, the alleged desecration of the Tana Baru cemetery by illegal occupants has raised further concern. According to the Tana Baru Trust, a family who has resided intermittently on the land for the past 32 years, refuses to permanently vacate the land, which has resulted in both the desecration and destruction of the historical site. Community members are now seeking a permanent solution to protect the safety and sanctity of the grounds and the surrounding area.
Chair of the Tana Baru Trust Dr Aadiel Bassier, whose association with the trust began in 2009, says that the situation was brought to the attention of the trust’s management team after the family’s presence on the land resulted in the desecration of the burial ground.
John Swartz, his wife Sarie Rex, and their two children, Ebrahim (5) and Shahieda Rex (10), reside in a dilapidated one-room house held together with pieces of wood, broken furniture, plastic and a cardboard. Details of his living conditions were highlighted in a report on online news publication Groundup last week.
Bassier said that the delegation, after locating Swartz, respectfully explained the sacredness of the site to him and said that further occupation of the site will desecrate the grave of one of the forefathers of Muslims in the Cape.
“People living on the site urinate on it, defecate on it, fornicate on it, and get inebriated on it. So we asked them nicely to move.”
Despite the Trusts gentle persuasions and assisting John by building him a shack on a piece of private land, which is located near the Noon Gun, John returned to the site approximately three months later.
Bassier noted that while members of the trust were voted in by the Muslim community to protect the site, the trust does not own the land. Instead, the land consists of private erfs.
“The city has come to our aid, but they have to tread very carefully, since he [John] claims that he has the permission of the owner to remain on the land…the person who [allegedly] gave permission has passed away.”
He further noted that even if permission was previously granted, the family as it stands do not approve of his presence on the site.
“He is on a site that is very sensitive to Muslims; certainly we are very unhappy about it. Our first objective is [therefore] to protect this site,” Galvaan continued.
While the preservation of the site is not only important for local Muslims, it has proven to hold significant symbolism for foreign Muslim, particularly Turkish nationals.
Criminal activity on the rise
The zone coordinator for Bo-Kaap Neighbourhood Watch, Ganief Galvaan, explained that since the construction of shacks on the property, there appears to be an influx of questionable individuals to the site.
“It is quite clear that since these shacks have been erected, there has been a lot of activity on the Tana Baru ground. Individuals have been found to possess drugs, dangerous weapons, and tourists have been robbed at knife and gun-point inside the ground.”
In monitoring the situation, Galvaan said that suspected cases of prostitution has been reported. In addition, members of the family residing on the ground are reported to constantly be found in a drunken state, which results in arguments that are continued in the street.
He said that the absence of toilet facilities has resulted in further destruction of the site and the surrounding area.
“These people just take their buckets in the morning and throw it out – obviously there is a serious health risk.”
Galvaan further noted that the fence, which surrounds the site, has been forced open and, therefore, requires constant maintenance.
Law enforcement officials he affirmed has indicated that since the land is considered private property, the onus is on the owner of the land to manage the site.
“The Tana Baru Trust has done a lot in the past and they have tried to relocate the people, but this particular family keep returning. The Trust has asked us to get involved because this particular person does get very aggressive,” Galvaan concluded. VOC