Historical Graves in South Africa

South Africa is full of historical graves which give illustrative insight into its turbulent past. The people buried here have shaped the history of South Africa, which makes many of the graves poignant reminders of a country plagued by sacrifice, struggle and conflict.

These graves convey messages not only commemorating battle and conflict, but also tell the story of great human loss. The burial sites form an important part of South Africa’s rich heritage and need to be conserved and preserved for future generations. This is an expression of respect and patriotism to the memory of these brave heroes – people who have changed the history of a nation.

Historical Graves – Early Burial Sites

  • When the settlers first settled in the Cape, people of prominence were buried inside church buildings. The Castle was used as the place of worship in those days so it became the place where these people were laid to rest. Later, a new site had to be chosen where a cemetery could be created alongside the new church building. About R12 was charged for a place inside the church and about R 1 for a spot in the churchyard. Today this is where the Groote Kerk and office buildings now stand.
  • From when the Dutch settlers first arrived in 1652 until the end of the Boer War in 1902, most of the historic battlefields were because of territorial disputes, conflicts, and rivalries. The importance of the sea-route along South Africa’s coastline was another bone of contention. The majority of these battlefields are found in KwaZulu Natal so this is naturally where most of the early historical graves are to be found.


Historical Graves are of International and Tourist Value

Historical Graves of the Zulu Wars

Rorke’s Drift Battlefield (23 January 1879)

There are certain historical graves in South Africa which are of international interest, and are visited by countless tourists every year.

  • Isandlwana – where tourists can actually ‘feel’ the disaster of1879 when the British Army was overtaken and killed by a mighty Zulu force. The Fugitives Trail marks these graves.
  • Simonstown – this military seaside town reminds one of the sailors who lost their lives defending South Africa’s important sea-route.
  • Women’s Memorial, Bloemfontein – this is in memory of the woman and children who died in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War.
  • Hector Peterson memorial, Soweto – a place commemorating South Africa’s loss of life amongst the youth, in their struggle for freedom.

Of course there are others who have changed the course of South African history, and their graves have also become famous. These are –

  • Pieter Willem Botha was a South African Prime Minister who resisted international interference with South Africa’s system of racial segregation. He is buried in Hoekwil Cemetery.
  • Bantu Steven Biko – a South African Black leader who sought peaceful reconciliation with White South Africans, but instead got involved with violence. He is buried in King Williams Town Cemetery.
  • KaMpande Cetshwayo – King of the Zulus during the British invasion in1879. He is buried in Nkandla forest in KwaZulu Natal.
  • Paul Kruger – Former President of South Africa and leader of the Boers. He is buried in Heroes Acre, Pretoria cemetery.
  • Nelson Rolihahla Mandela – the first Black South African President. He was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who strove for racial reconciliation. He is buried in Mandela Graveyard, Qunu, Eastern Cape.
  • Joe Slovu – Anti-apartheid activist and South African Communist Party member. He is buried in Heroes Acre, Pretoria Cemetery.
  • Hendrik Verwoerd – South African Prime minister. He was assassinated in the house of Assembly for reasons unknown. His resting place is Heroes Acre, Pretoria Cemetery.
  • Shaka Zulu – ‘King of the Zulus’ – he became known for uniting all the ethnic groups in southern Africa against colonialism. He lies buried in Monument on Couper Street, Stanger.

Sadly, most of the cemeteries in South Africa are not well maintained, and with vandalism being rife, the graves are no longer being visited, and their memories are slowly fading away.

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All info was correct at time of publishing