Villagers forced to pay thousands for graves. Funerals delayed as bereaved scramble for cash.
GRIEVING, cash strapped and powerless village residents are being terrorised by a vigilante group which forces them to pay up exorbitant cash amounts before they can bury their dead in the cemetery on tribal trust land.
African Times has seen a list of 11 names of deceased people, including a five-year-old child, whose families were allegedly forced to make such payments on the eve of their burials.
The payments range from R500, R1600, R6 700 to R12 700. Residents said those who don’t comply are threatened with violence, refused permission to dig graves and are barred from entering the cemetery by the vigilantes.
African Times understands the vigilantes allegedly demand these payments under the guise of punishing those who default on annual tribal levies paid to traditional councils and tribal authorities.
As a result, scores of residents of Fairly village in Moletjie, 40km north of Polokwane have now resolved to bury their dead in their backyards to avoid paying the hefty amounts. They cite the unreasonable cash demands and threats made by the vigilantes, allegedly acting on behalf of the office of the Selepe royal family for the decision.
The Selepe royal family, whose representatives could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print, falls under the Moletjie Tribal Authority.
The social and land rights group Nkuzi Development Association said it has also briefed the Legal Resources Centre to take legal action against various government departments, the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders and traditional authorities. They want the courts to declare the payments of such levies illegal.
In the latest incident last month, the families of Johannes Mabitsela and Jonas Mpati were forced to make a payment of R6 000 each before they could bury their loved ones.
The vigilantes allegedly refused the families permission to dig graves and barred them from the cemetery until cash payments were made.
In desperation the families were forced to urgently seek cash loans from friends and relatives to pay up in order to continue with the burials.
African Times understands that both burials only got underway late on Saturday afternoon after the families had paid up.
“There was already water dripping from underneath the coffin because the body had been placed in the house for so long,” said resident Jacob Molele on the Mpati family’s burial.
Molele took his case to the Small Claims Court and the SA Human Rights Commission after he was forced to pay R6 000 before the burial of his wife Jobline.
“I was so stressed. When my wife’s body was brought home [the day before the burial] I was not there. I was running around looking for money to pay these people. I was going mad,” said Molele.
His wife was buried late in the afternoon after Molele had raised the money. Although payments are made to this grouping which claims to represent induna Selepe, there are no receipts or any proof of payment made to those who pay up.
Molele said when he demanded proof of payment he was given a handwritten document which neither had an address or an official stamp. African Times has seen the handwritten document written in Sepedi. It bears no official stamp or contact number.
It states that Mabitsela has agreed to co-operate with the royal family and has paid a fine of R6 000. But he said he only signed the document under duress. He lost his case at the Small Claims Court but has also reported the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission.
Another victim of the pay-before-you-bury racket, Elizabeth Meso has approached the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders for help.
She wants the House to help her with the exhumation of the body of her husband Ezekiel Meso. Meso was buried in the backyard of his business after his family failed to pay R12 700 allegedly demanded by the vigilantes.
“I want to erect a tombstone in honour of my husband. But I cannot do that when he is buried here. He wanted to be buried in the cemetery. His other child is also buried in that cemetery,” said Elizabeth still dressed in traditional mourning close for her husband.
African Times has seen a letter signed by the chairperson of the House Kgoši Malesela Dikgale. The letter states that the House has planned a meeting between Kgoši Moloto of the Moletjie Tribal Council and Elizabeth next Monday [20 March].
Her husband, together with William Selepe who has also since died were both indunas in the village. Residents said there was mutual respect among the pair. However, problems arose when Selepe died around 2003 and his family was rocked by a succession battle.
Elizabeth said on the eve of her husband’s burial she was shocked confronted by the vigilantes who demanded a cash payment of R12 700 before they could allow the family to lay his body to rest.
Elizabeth said they told her this was a fine given out to the family because they had defaulted on tribal levies. But Elizabeth denied this. In desperation her family tried to bury Meso at a neighbouring village, but the vigilantes allegedly stopped them in their tracks.
In the end and with time running out, Meso was eventually buried in the backyard of his office some 300 metres from the village cemetery where he had wished to be laid to rest.
“We are scared of these people. We have no peace. When someone dies we panic. We only rest after the burial,” said Elizabeth. – firstname.lastname@example.org