The Sunday Mail
FOR nearly three years, Antony Urimbo saved all he could to buy a tombstone for his mother’s grave.
But less than a year after erecting the US$1 000 headstone at Zinyengere Cemetery in Epworth, the tombstone vanished without a trace.
Dead people, who have always commanded the living’s respect — are now easy targets for thieves. Thieves have become so daring that they are now stripping graves, targeting the expensive tombstones. Apart from the tombstones, vases and sculptures are also being stolen from graveyards.
Although most people would consider it one of the most despicable crimes, creeping into a cemetery in the dark of the night to steal from people’s crypts has become common.
This “grave sin”, which has seen morals being thrown out of the window, has left society in shock and disbelief.
Apparently, the dead are no longer sacred to the thieves. Syndicates in the city are making a killing by clean cutting and refining tombstones for resale. The tombstones are also being refined into countertops for both commercial and domestic use.
Urban legend has it that even expensive second hand coffins can be found on the market, although disguised as new.
A devastated Urimbo said his family is shattered by this act of immorality, which gives them ample cause to grieve.
“It took us a long time to get the tombstone up because it was so costly. It’s something I had to do. It’s a very important part after death, it sort of brings closure,” he said.
Although his family wants to erect another tombstone, they fear it may be stolen as well.
“I’m fuming. The local board failed to protect the cemetery, it’s very disheartening that there are people who make it their business to steal from the dead. There is no peace, not even in death — there is simply no respect for dead people anymore,” he retorted.
Urimbo highlighted that a lack of security and maintenance at the cemeteries is encouraging the disturbing criminal activity.
Although the Urimbo family has opened a case of grave desecration with the local police, the criminals are yet to be brought to book.
Bizarre as it may sound, this family is only one of the growing number of tombstone theft victims. Investigations conducted by The Sunday Mail Society revealed that the robbers are stealing the headstones and selling them to undertakers who then refine them for resell.
Epworth residents suspect that enterprising stone masons, who have flooded street corners, might be involved in these ghoulish acts.
Inquiries made by this publication revealed that undertakers and stone masons often place “orders” with criminals, asking them to steal the headstones.
A stone mason who refused to be named identified a possible market for the gravestones. He said the same people selling expensive stones are the ones running syndicates that are stealing and reselling them.
“You might buy a tombstone that belonged to someone else, they simply clean cut it and use it again. Tombstones are marble and can be used to manufacture table and kitchen tops.
“However, undertakers are not the only suspects. Municipal workers cannot be ruled out,” he said.
Mr Michael Chideme, the Harare City Council spokesperson said they are aware of tombstone thefts.
“We are aware and we urge affected members of the community to report such cases to the police so that offenders can be brought to book,” he said.
However, Harare Provincial Police Spokesperson Assistant Inspector Tariro Dube said they are yet to receive reports of desecration of graves and vandalism of tombs.
Perhaps this is because victims in outlying areas often do not report cases of this nature to the police. Instead, they tend to seek spiritual answers from the prophets and traditional healers in their respective communities.
In urban areas, some of the victims take long to notice the theft since most graveyards are situated far away from human settlements. When they eventually realise their beloved one’s tombstone has been stolen, very few will be willing to make official reports to authorities.
Sekuru Friday Chisanyu, president of the Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association, said the theft of tombstones is a new phenomenon, which indicates a greedy society whose morals are decaying.
“Erecting a tombstone is part of the process of trying to heal‚ doing what the deceased would have wanted the family to do‚” he said.
“Now you find a tombstone stolen, the grave desecrated and violated.”
He raised concern over the fact that people rarely visit their loved ones’ graves.
“It’s shocking how people don’t visit graves. They only visit the graves during the first few years and after that, they stop‚” said Sekuru Chisanyu.
“As a result, they may never know if their loved one’s grave is still in tact.”