The Mmalekwa Cemetery, Kanye

As is to be expected, this country possesses a range of interesting and valuable historic cemeteries. By and large, however, these cemeteries are disregarded and occasional visitors may be justified in believing that no authority is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep.

But now, all of a sudden, Kgosi Malope has sent out a letter (22,10,15) appealing for funds to help upgrade and protect the historically important Mmalekwa cemetery in Kanye.

This is a really encouraging initiative – possibly the first of its kind – which really does need to be supported. As Kgosi Malope states in his letter, in the Mmalekwa cemetery are the graves of an extraordinary cross section of the community which is itself an intriguing contrast to the separate cemeteries that can be found up and down the country for this or that group of people, normally the black and the white. In Kanye, everyone is in there as one, the royals, the traders, the missionaries, the serving members of the old British South Africa police, European travellers, as well as locals of lesser distinction.

However, - why does there so often have to be a ‘however’, Kgosi Malope’s rare initiative immediately reminded me of the time, a few years back, when Kgosi Linchwe told the National Museum to desist from its forceful insistence that, under the National Monuments Act it was responsible for all historical cemeteries, including., in and around Mochudi, the graves in the kgotla lesaka, the royal/Christian cemetery behind the DR mission, and the Molotwana cemetery.


It happened that the St George’s Society had recently told Kgosi Linchwe of its wish to help upgrade the Molotwana cemetery but unwilling to get caught up in a spat between Kgosi and Museum and doubtful that this was ever likely to be resolved, withdrew its offer. Since that time, the issue has remained dormant but is certainly not dead.

Any cemetery in which a first incumbent was laid to rest after 1 June 1902 is deemed to be an ancient monument whether it has or has not been gazetted as such.  All ancient monuments are by definition the responsibility of the National Museum which may enter into an agreement with the owner of a monument regarding care and upkeep.  It is the relationship between ownership and responsibility which intrigues me and is once again likely to be the cause of continuing conflict unless handled with great sensitivity and care. Presumably the Bangwaketse tribe owns the Mmalekwa cemetery which is registered by the Land Board in its name or perhaps in the name of the Kgosi on behalf of the tribe.

Should this be the case, the notion that one element can own whilst another has responsibility must mean that everyone involved is walking on egg shells. It would be of much interest, especially I imagine to Kanye, to know how this conundrum has been sorted out in respect of the royal cemetery in Serowe? Is ownership and responsibility there vested in one authority or is there some sort of unworking duality?

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