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Freetown may lose cemeteries to encroachers

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.”

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  1. Restoration and Upkeep of Cemeteries in Freetown – The Race Course Cemetery Fencing Project.

    This was a key initiative taken on by the Sierra Leone Bicentenary Trust, a UK based registered charity, providing education and training for people of all ages. (http://sierraleonebicentenarytrust.org/news.html) Contributing to National Development, we also
    provide opportunities for people to gain skills and knowledge that will enable them to access the world of work. This philosophy is shared with our Sierra Leone government’s policy on “Agenda for
    Prosperity”. The Trust has been supported financially, by concerned citizens and as a result, have completed a good number of fence panels at the Race Course Cemetery, Cline Town – the final
    resting place of several prominent people. Amongst them: The Hon. Justice C.O.E Cole (First President of Sierra Leone), Lady Rebecca Stevens, Hon. Dr Davidson S.H.W. Nicol, Ven. Archdeacon Thomas B. King, Nancy Dolly Steele, Alfred Akibo-Betts and Ebenezer Calendar.

    Continuous damaged panels were repaired and the majority of the work completed with only a few areas left. Our work had to stop as Freetown City Council had started levying registration fees on owners of all grave sites in the Freetown municipality, with monies raised to be used for the fencing and maintenance and upkeep of all cemeteries. We need to ensure that our historically important cemeteries will not be ignored anymore and some of the monies collected by Freetown City Council will be spent on upkeep of our cemeteries and also for them to address the continued abuse of the cemetery particularly
    as a tipping and dumping ground for waste, by the general public.

    One of the issues we encountered was the lack of security for the project and a secure room to store our tools and materials at the cemetery site. Losing items daily through theft and unauthorised use by cemetery workers unjustifiably placed a strain on our resources.
    In an attempt to address this particular problem, we were promised the
    exclusive use of one out of the four rooms in the building on site, but
    unfortunately, this never came to fruition. It was a difficult period having to deal with the regular loss of materials and equipment. In addition, the reality is that enormous sacrifice of time and money had gone into this project; and equally disappointing is that the Trust could not achieve its main objective, due to the failure of a few unpatriotic Sierra Leoneans.

    A huge thanks and appreciation was sent to all the caring and generous people who answered our call and contributed to this project.

    Presently, in the process of laying electrical cables by contractors who were working in the area at Race Course Road, the trench that they dug was too close to the wall which resulted in the collapse of several panels of the same wall. As a result of this, I spoke to the supervisor of the team laying the cables who promised to re-construct the walls.
    I am disappointed to report that the wall has not been repaired and as
    far as I am aware, Freetown City Council has taken no steps with regards to re-constructing the fence. Therefore, I wrote to the
    Chief Administrator of Freetown City Council in May and November 2016. Also, in December 2016, to The Director General, Electricity
    Distribution & Supply Authority (EDSA). To date (February 2017), their reply is still awaited. This promise that was made by the supervisor must be fulfilled satisfactorily.

    I believe that the way forward is for an independent body of Trustees to be created to take control and manage Freetown Cemeteries. This is to ensure our dear mothers, fathers, friends and relatives whose memories we hold sacred, Rest In Peace.

    Finally, I wish to acknowledge once more, and extend my thanks to the concerned citizens for funding this project, and also the workforce and volunteers for their support in honouring our dead.

    Ronald Andrew Lisk-Carew, Chair, Sierra Leone Bicentenary Trust
    (Registered Charity No: 700447, England)
    February 2017.

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