Anglo-Zulu war graves looted
The increasing international demand for Anglo-Zulu War relics is believed to behind the increase in grave robbing at heritage sites in KwaZulu-Natal.
"We suspect that agents employed by European collectors looking for relics - such as buttons and badges, or just a piece of uniform worn during the Anglo-Zulu War - are responsible for the thefts," said the Amafa Heritage Council's deputy director for support and technical services, James van Vuuren, yesterday.
"Most of the soldiers are buried in their uniforms so collectors, who want a piece of uniform for reasons unknown to us, could be responsible for the upsurge."
The KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Conservation Council suspects that unemployed people are being hired to rob graves.
On Tuesday, the Prince Imperial Memorial, near Nquthu in the Dundee district, was vandalised for the second time in six months and Amafa is adamant that the desecration was not a "random act of criminality".
Prince Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial of France, was killed in the 1879 war while assigned as an observer with a British detachment.
His body was laid in state in Pietermaritzburg before being returned to Britain, where he and his mother, the Empress Eugenie, had been living in exile.
Van Vuuren said the grave robbers might have mistaken the memorial for a soldier's grave.
"Nobody is buried beneath the marker. Whoever did this was wasting his time because he would have found nothing."
Last month, grave robbers desecrated a grave at Intombi Camp, near Ladysmith.
"It is an offence to remove any relic from a battlefield or grave site. Any person found guilty faces a prison sentence or a hefty fine," said Van Vuuren.
In May, robbers targeted a grave at Intombi Camp Military Cemetery. A destroyed headstone and a 2m hole were discovered by contractors employed by Amafa to maintain the site.
"It's a wasted effort on the part of the culprits, since this is a formal cemetery and the personal effects of the dead would probably have been removed before burial," Van Vuuren said.
He said that the police are investigating.
"In terms of local tourism, it doesn't have an impact because there are very few people who visit the sites but, in the bigger picture, it has serious implications. It puts the province [in a bad light] because it [has failed] to protect its heritage sites," Van Vuuren said.
Archaeologists have excavated a human skeleton in a cave on a farm in Wasbank, northern KwaZulu-Natal.
A local farmer and his nephews stumbled upon the broken skull.
"Archaeologists are examining ing it to determine its sex and age," Van Vuuren said.