Cemetery auction stopped

SAFE: The auction of the historic Tana Baru cemetery site (on the right in this picture) in Bo-Kaap has been cancelled due to public pressure. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

The ClareMart Auction Group has cancelled the auction of two pieces of land, which are regarded as sacred, at the historic Tana Baru cemetery in the Bo-Kaap.

This comes after the Tana Baru Trust vowed to stop the auction which was meant to take place at the end of June.

The trust expressed shock after the auction group’s announcement last week about a plan to auction the pieces of land which constitute 20% of the cemetery at a reserve price of R20 million. Spokesperson for Tana Baru Trust, Mohammed Groenewald, said the Tana Baru was one of the most significant sites in Bo-Kaap that Muslims and non-Muslims in South Africa regard as a sacred space because of its historic significance.

He said the land was given to the Muslim community in 1804 as a burial site and was divided to accommodate various mosques in the area.

Mr Groenewald said many Muslim icons like Tuan Guru, Saartjie van de Kaap and Abubakr Effendi had been buried at Tana Baru.

“It is for this reason that we were determined to oppose the sale of this land,” said Mr Groenewald.

He said this was not the first time the Muslim community of Bo-Kaap was fighting for the Tana Baru.

“In 1886 the cemetery was officially closed and the community at the time, led by Abdol Burns, protested against the closure. Two days after the official closure, a young boy passed away and in defiance, the community buried him at the Tana Baru, which led to the first riots in the Cape, said Mr Groenewald.

Mr Groenewald said it was crucial to preserve the land, not only because of its significance for the dignity of those who were buried at the Tana Baru, but also because it would serve as a reminder to future generations of the sacrifices made by their forefathers who came here
as slaves and political prisoners.

Mr Groenewald said some family members who own the land were not in agreement with the sale, but the trust planned to engage those who were in favour of selling to withdraw.

However, before the negotiations could happen, ClareMart cancelled the auction.

In a statement released on Monday June 11, general executive director, Andrew Koch, said they could not proceed to auction property whose ownership was under dispute and they felt that the responsible thing to do was to cancel the auction.

Mr Koch said he had discussed the matter with the sellers, a group of heirs from the community, and advised them to re-engage with the community regarding the historical and religious significance of the land and its ownership.

“ClareMart were instructed by the group of heirs, the current legal title holders, to proceed to auction, but were not aware of the ongoing dispute regarding the future of the land, being a part of the cemetery and of significance to the community.

“Once we became aware of this, despite the fact that we were properly mandated, we immediately engaged the community directly,” he said.

He added that as an auction firm with a long-standing relationship with the Muslim community of Cape Town in particular, they felt it was the correct way forward and this would allow the conversation regarding the dispute surrounding the land to be taken further within the community which they believe is the best way forward for all concerned.

The decision to cancel the auction was welcomed by Bo-Kaap Youth and the Bo-Kaap Civic Association.

Mr Groenewald said the Tana Baru Trust planned to develop the cemetery into a garden of remembrance and to work towards declaring it a national heritage
site.