18 September 2023

The ground you walk on in Avalon Cemetery is rooted in history. It is the final resting place of many who fought undaunted, for the liberation of people living under the oppressive apartheid system.  These men and women were warriors of justice during the height of apartheid’s rule and divide, even in death. 

The historic Avalon cemetery opened in 1972 and marked its 50th anniversary in 2022.  It was exclusively reserved for the burial of Blacks although people’s heroes like Helen Joseph and Joe Slovo are buried there too.  With the onset of the 16 June Student Uprising and the police shootings that followed, Avalon soon filled up with victims of apartheid. 

The cemetery is the largest in South Africa, spanning 172 hectares with over 300 000 people buried there.  Avalon is not only the burial ground of famous activists and politicians, but of individuals who distinguished themselves in the arts, in sports, in business and other walks of life.  Generations of so-called “ordinary” people are buried there, who were fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and loved ones. 

The Executive Mayor in the City of Johannesburg, Councillor Kabelo Gwamanda, supported by Councillor Lubabalo Magwentshu, Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development in the City of Johannesburg, will unveil a prestigious Blue Plaque on Tuesday, 19 September 2023 at Avalon cemetery at 10h30, in commemorating Heritage month. 

Blue plaques stand as badges of honour, recognition and sites of significance of remarkable individuals and places where history lies.  These sites are protected under the City of Joburg, serving to promote cultural awareness and the preservation of historical landmarks.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, the custodians of green open spaces, cemeteries and crematoria together with the Directorate of Arts, Culture and Heritage department in the City of Joburg, played a pivotal role in ensuring that this long-awaited blue plaque at Avalon cemetery, be officially awarded as a symbol of heritage, history, culture and a reminder of the remarkable men and women buried in Avalon cemetery. 

The occasion will serve to honour the grave of Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph and the many defenders of freedom such as Joe Slovo, Tsietsi Mashinini, Hector Pietersen and victims of the June ’76 student uprising. 

In 1995 the former Soweto Council approved the Hero’s Acre at Avalon cemetery to honour struggle heroes and heroines.  A portion of Section B was set aside for recognition of new heroes.  The shared grave of Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph was declared a National Heritage site in 2010.

The Mendi Memorial, another heritage feature, will see delegates honour the memory of victims of the SS Mendi, a troopship that sank in February 1917 during the First World War (WW1), with the loss of 607 Black soldiers.

The Mendi Memorial at Avalon is the largest of its kind in South Africa, having been upgraded and expanded by the City of Joburg in 2018. 

The city will also welcome a new plaque at the Mendi Memorial and wreaths will be laid as a mark of respect by the Executive Mayor, The Chairperson on the Soweto Branch of the South African Legion, Mr Arthur Khoza, and a representative of South African Navy veterans.