Petite in stature, yet she has been carrying the most daunting task of managing the city’s cemeteries for the past 20 years with diligence and the efficiency required.
Harriet Bless (53) is a mother of two. She is the executive manager responsible for all 79 cemeteries across the city. A huge responsibility she assumed immediately when the city’s former town councils merged into a metropolitan municipality in 2000.
A qualified Horticulturist by profession, Bless holds a National Diploma in Horticulture, acquired at Cape Peninsula Technikon. Bless says she has always been fond of gardening and working on the soil, so working at the city’s cemeteries came easy for her.
As an executive manager, Bless has a staff complement of over 300 officials reporting to her across the city. She oversees officials such as cemetery officers, admin clerks, gravediggers, general workers and contractors. For the past 20 years, Bless’s ordinary day at work starts at 7am and ends at 3:30pm ensuring that all the city’s cemeteries are well looked after and conducive for residents to lay their loved ones in a dignified manner.
Passionate as she is about her job, Bless said off late the cemetery is faced with taboo challenges of vandalism and all sorts of criminal activities, something you could never see in years back.
“When I grew up a cemetery used to be considered as the most highly respected space. But now, we are battling issues of vandalism, theft and more gruesome crimes such as people getting raped and robbed in our cemeteries at night,” lamented Bless.
However, there are many good and improved deeds over the years effected at the city’s cemeteries. Over the years, administration of cemeteries has improved from being captured manually to digital and the digging of graves have moved from the use of pik and shovel to using TLB to dig and trim the graves which makes the job more bearable for the officials.
Furthermore, Bless said 2020 remains the most challenging year ever with the outbreak of COVID-19. She said she had to prepare her staff to work more than double their work daily to keep up with the increased burials and to follow all regulations.
“I had to prepare my team to be ready for COVID-19 in terms of the use of PPE and how to handle a grave of a covid-19 burial. We had many staff members who were infected with the virus and they have since recovered and continue to serve with pride. It was not easy, it was scary but we did it and we are still working hard to bury residents with dignity,” added Bless.
In conclusion, Bless pleaded with the community of Ekurhuleni to respect the cemeteries, as it is the final resting place for our loved ones. Stating that vandalism and all sorts of criminal acts shows disrespect to the dead.