January 27, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Four cemeteries in Freetown – Circular Road, Kingtom, Kissy Road, and Race Cross – are about to be taken over by encroachers should the authorities fail to take necessary action.
Encroachers have transformed the cemeteries into dumpsites and garages, while others have constructed makeshift and permanent structures there for dwelling.
An aggrieved resident of Freetown, Tony Murray, said the encroachment into cemeteries in the capital has been going on for decades with successive governments showing little or no concern.
“Most of those that own the garages and makeshift structures at those cemeteries are probably supporters of the ruling government, and that is why they have been there unhindered,” he claimed. “Freetown is no longer having pieces and parcels of land to be allocated for cemeteries and that is why we should protect the existing ones.”
Murray called on the government to evict all encroachers to free space at the cemeteries for burials.
A grave digger at the Circular Road cemetery, Foday Boima, said the Freetown City Council (FCC) had visited the site and warned people to stop dumping wastes at the cemetery, but their warning had not been paid heed to.
He added that people were being motivated to embark on such activities because some sections of the cemetery are not fenced.
Sulaiman Zainu Parker, Environment and Social Officer at the FCC, said most of the cemeteries now pose environmental hazard because they have been transformed into dumpsites.
He noted that some people have encroached on the cemeteries to construct makeshift buildings or permanent structures, while others have transformed the sacred burial sites into garages to park and maintenance vehicles.
“The problem is with the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment that has been in the habit of issuing building permits and other documents that legalise the existence of those people residing at the cemeteries,” he said.
He mentioned a building at the Ascension Town cemetery that is situated on three mass graves that contain over 200 corpses.
Parker further disclosed that the encroachers always take advantage of changes in leadership at the council, as whenever a mayor takes them to court, the case would drag on until his term of office expires, adding that they would then go to the Ministry of Lands to secure fresh documents.
“People also take advantage of the damaged fences at the cemeteries to access the land and put up structures, but plans are underway to fence and beautify the cemeteries so as to scare away encroachers,” he revealed.
“The council needs strong political backing from the central government to evict the encroachers.”