On Sunday I stopped by a cleanup event at the Brixton Cemetery, hosted by the Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries. The volunteer group regularly organizes cleanups at different cemeteries around the city, picking up rubbish and restoring the older headstones.

Volunteer cleaning headstone in Brixton Cemetery
A volunteer cleans one of the prettiest headstones in Brixton cemetery, erected for Alida du Randt in 1930. I posted a photo of the same headstone the last time I visited Brixton Cemetery, way back in 2013.
Restored organ headstone at Brixton Cemetery
A spectacular organ headstone, erected in 1937 for Wilfred James Murray.
Kids working to clean up rubbish at the cemetery
The day’s youngest and cutest volunteers.

The light was really harsh on Sunday morning so I couldn’t visually capture the cleanup event as nicely as I would have liked. (Please check out my Brixton Cemetery photos from 2013, taken on a rainy, misty afternoon, for some more atmospheric shots.) But I spent quite a bit of time walking around, reading the headstones and making up stories about the people buried beneath them. I’d forgotten how cemeteries make me think.

Headstone in the cemetery
The inscription on this stone made me remember how terrible it feels to lose a loved one without being able to say goodbye. Nearly 100 years later, I could still feel the pain of these two parents.
Half-empty headstone in the cemetery
This headstone struck me because it’s half-empty. The inscription reads, “In loving memory of my dear husband and darling daddy, Leonard Walter Smith. Born 2 July, 1909, died 2 Jan., 1938. A silent thought, a secret tear, keeps his memory ever dear.” When Leonard died (at the very young age of 28), I suppose his widow expected to eventually be buried beside him. But she must have married again and changed her plans.
Headstone of 16-year-old Philip Joseph
Headstone of a boy, Philip Joseph, who died when he was only 16, and Namtalla Joseph, who I presume was his mother. The letters in Philip’s name seem to have been pried off the stone. I’m intrigued by the lettering at the bottom of the stone, which I think is Arabic — not something I would expect to see on a Christian headstone. I’m guessing the Josephs were a Lebanese Christian family.
Headless headstone
One of quite a few headless headstones in the Brixton Cemetery. The cemetery has been badly vandalized over the years.
Cemetery headstone and palm tree
There’s something about the harsh light, the dramatic, Pietà-style headstone, and the incredibly tall palm tree soaring in the background that makes the hairs on my arms stand up.

The Brixton Cemetery isn’t safe to visit alone, so volunteer events like this are a great opportunity to experience a unique slice of Joburg heritage. Follow the Friends of Johannesburg Cemeteries and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation for information on future events.

Angel statue in Brixton Cemetery
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