Monday, March 9, 2009

Sanctuary: Living in the Cemetery

In Mozambique, governmental forces are mobilizing to evict those who have made their homes in the cemeteries there. Living in the cemetery is nothing uniquely modern or African though. In his incredible history of death, The Hour of our Death, Phillipe Aries documents that the medieval European church yard functioned as the town square and a recognized sanctuary, where the persecuted could be, at least temporarily, free from persecution. In the medieval 'cemetery', all kinds of very human activities took place, from auctions and markets to more illicit behavior. A regular fixture of these cemeteries were residents. In some cases, they were outcasts from the larger society, sometimes they were just people who had no where else to live.
I'm certainly not proposing to invite people to live in our cemeteries, nor do many of the things that were once done in them (and sometimes still are). But, I think that the idea of cemetery as sanctuary is an important one, and gives some perspective on the following story from All Africa.Com.


Maputo — The new mayor of Maputo, David Simango, has promised to transfer the families living inside the city's Lhanguene cemetery to new plots of land within 100 days, according to a report carried by the independent television station STV. About 100 families have built shacks inside the cemetery. They show no respect for those buried at Lhanguene, and their children can be spotted playing football over the graves.

This scandal has been going on for years, and Simango is not the first mayor to promise to bring it to an end. The shacks are entirely illegal, yet no attempt has been made to tear them down and evict those who see nothing wrong with squatting in graveyards.

Nobody could complain if the City Council simply bulldozed the shacks and evicted the squatters. But instead Simango plans to pay them to leave. He said that consensus has been reached about the compensation to be paid, and about the new areas to which they will be moved.

But when STV asked some of the Lhanguene residents, they said they knew nothing about any transfer. They claimed that they were willing to leave the cemetery, but demanded "better living conditions". They wanted money to allow them to build better houses, and guarantees that their new plots would have adequate access roads and schools nearby.

The Lhanguene cemetery has been fast running out of space, forcing some funerals to be held in cemeteries in the neighbouring city of Matola, or in the district of Marracuene. The removal of the illegal shacks will liberate a considerable amount of space inside the cemetery and allow more funerals to take place there.http://allafrica.com/stories/200902260872.html

Click here to view Sanctuary,Part 2: Moving In

1 comment:

pb said...

Good piece. We used to party in the cemetary behind Taft all the time- I didn't think of it as a bad thing at the time. Not sure if I do now, looking back. I sometimes think one of the reasons I bought my house upstate is it's a short walk to a truly beautiful cemetary. Good stuff Patrick!

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