City puts freeze on memorial benches

The City of Cape Town says benches with large granite plaques have changed the atmosphere on Jager’s Walk from a coastal walkway to a memorial walkway.

The City of Cape Town has placed a moratorium on memorial benches and no new benches or plaques may be installed on any beaches on the False Bay coastline.

The news came as a shock to the family of Roger Pardoe, 26, who were preparing a memorial bench for him on Fish Hoek Beach.

Roger grew up in Fish Hoek, and his family say he loved the ocean from a young age. He died on June 14, and a week after his death, family and friends held a paddle-out for him at Clovelly Beach (“Farewell for Roger,” Echo July 8).

His sister, Elise Farley, said they were “extremely disappointed” in the sudden change of policy, especially as the family had gone through the full approval process.

They had written approval from the City for the bench but had been told last week, the day before the bench was completed, that it might not be installed and that they could not use the plaque they had had made, she said.

“We undertook this venture to honour the life of our much-loved son and brother. We wanted it to be a special place where we could go to and remember him,” she said.

She said the City had told them that the plaque could not memorialise individuals and could only say that a bench had been donated by a family in memory of their loved one.

“We do not want to use the mandated plaque text as it invalidates the purpose of having the bench. It is generic, impersonal, and does not even make sense in the context of our blended family,” she said.

Diane Pardoe said it was depressing to walk along that catwalk now and see the bench that should have been a reminder of the life her son loved, showing a gaping hole where the plaque should have been placed.

“At the very least, the City should have allowed those that had already gone through the correct channels to obtain the permission and who had already paid for the bench and the plaque to complete the exercise. There should have been a date put in place where all future benches and plaques would have to adhere to this new policy,” she said.

In 2018, there was an outcry by the community after the City removed paid-for memorial benches from the beachfront during the resurfacing of the walkway without contacting the sponsors of the benches (“Removal of benches disrespectful,” Echo, November 22, 2018).

Fish Hoek resident Chris Bingham said the memorial benches had been part of the heritage of Fish Hoek Beach for decades.

“People come from all over the world and stop to read the messages on the benches,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for community service and health Zahid Badroodien said that while the memorial benches had always been a part of the Fish Hoek Beach environment, the atmosphere on Jager’s Walk had changed from that of a coastal walkway to a memorial walkway.

The plaques had historically been small and discreet, but in the past 18 months, people had installed large granite ones – with a picture of the deceased in one case – that were more like headstones, he said.

In response to several complaints, the recreation and parks department had set standards to keep the plaques small and discreet, he said.

The benches, he added, were also being built at rate beyond which the narrow walk could accommodate them.

The City was working on a plan to set specifications for the benches, he said.

Benches that had been build in the wrong place and that were impacting the walkway would be moved at no cost to the family, he said.

“The City will replace all the large granite ‘headstones’ with plaques that meet and match the historical memorial bench plaques at no cost to the family, and this way no family will lose its bench or their message,” he said.

The “new message”, he said, allowed for a family to memorialise their loved ones without turning the coastline into a graveyard or memorial garden.

“The City believes that this approach is not in any way impersonal,” he said.

Plaques that were removed would be returned to the families, and if contact details could not be found, they would be stored for when the families contacted the City, he said.

The plaque for Roger Pardoe made by his family.