Abide with me.

Reading the story of the dead new-born baby found at a waste dump in Yorkshire raised one of the saddest memories ever in my consciousness.

I was overseeing a project at a Sewage Treatment plant in a South African town named Springs. The works served a typical South African layout, with the main town centre drains collecting, as they ran down the very low gradient, effluent flows from all the dormitory suburbs occupied by the white population, as well as the far larger township areas where the Black population lived.

In order to treat all the human waste in the sewer networks at the entrance to the works without having all the machinery regularly clogged up, a screen which trapped and removed all large solid and water-logged mass works day and night. As the sewage runs over the moving bars, anything which cannot pass between the steel is removed, lifted up and scraped away to a central tipping point.

One morning I was checking work near the Intake screens, and noticed a small grassed area set apart from the main works area by a small fence, about nine inches in height. The area was about five yards by two, and inside there sat fourteen small crosses, all carved from a dark wood. Each cross had a tiny wreath set before it. I asked the works manager what the crosses represented, and he sent me across to the Black works sub-foreman.

He told me that each cross commemorated the last resting place of a foetus which had arrived via the sewage network, and had been picked up by the rotating screens. The manager had contacted a vicar from an Afrikaans church, and he had travelled down and consecrated the tiny graveyard.

One can only imagine the differing thoughts, dreams hopes and fears which were ended as those tiny souls were left to find their own path through a watery network of pipes and canals to end in the only place where they could find rest and welcome.

One thought on “Abide with me.

  1. A sad story. My wife was born in Springs. We are now retired in Pembrokeshire. I lived in South Africa for twenty years. I don’t think life for the common man has improved at all since independance and the rise of the Wabenzi.

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