Battle to save ancient Tana Baru Cemetery in Bo-Kaap

The battle to save the ancient cemetery in Cape Town took a dramatic turn when the Auction group Claremart told the Tana Baru Trust to back off from trying to prevent the sale of two portions of land regarded as sacred in Bo-Kaap. Claremart has forged ahead with advertising the land to be auctioned at the end of the month at a reserve price of R20million. This was met with outrage by the trust, saying the Tana Baru’s historical significance resides in it being the first officially recognised Muslim cemetery in South Africa. The two plots constitute 20% of the cemetery. The trust had charged that the Claremart advert was misleading to potential buyers as it “fails to mention that the two erven form part of a graveyard”.

Claremart general executive director Andrew Koch said the trust “should really have reserved judgement before obtaining all the facts of the matter and all the content in the marketing. Despite the fact that part of the site is an old cemetery, the property is currently zoned for development and could be developed if council approve the new owner’s development plan,” he said.

Koch said the Tena Baru Trust spokesperson’s statement that the land in question was unlikely to be approved by council was “a red herring and it is the council alone who can determine this”. Koch said it appeared that the trust needed to take up their concerns with the current owners and not the agent representing the sellers. “Their concerns regarding the historical ownership can only be dealt with in a court of law and my auction is not such a court,” said Koch.

He said there was no need to advertise that there were graves on the site as this information was in their brochure. “We are not required to advertise or specifically disclose any aspect of any property which can be clearly seen when attending on site – which is the case with the existing grave sites. Nevertheless we have done so. Prospective purchasers who contact us during the marketing of the properties for auction are advised of this aspect of the land,” said Koch. “While we are sensitive to the fact that part of the land is a burial ground, we also have to act as the agent for the private owner and attempt to sell the property as mandated to do so by the sellers and as registered property agents.”

Trust spokesperson Mohammad Groenewald said they would continue with efforts to stop the auction. He said the late Imam Samoudien had acquired the land in 1857 on behalf of his congregation for burial purposes. He said efforts were under way to declare the Tana Baru cemetery a national heritage site.

The Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies has thrown its weight behind the Tanu Baru Trust. In a statement, the board said: “It would be sacrilegious if through development part of this burial ground, a holy place containing gravestones marking the final resting places of many of the earliest Muslim scholars and imams, should be uprooted and replaced with an upmarket skyscraper.”

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