Football legend Dollah Kassim’s grave is among the 80,000 graves at Choa Chua Kang Cemetery that will be affected due to the relocation and expansion of Tengah Air Base.
The cemetery, which is Singapore’s largest and only operating burial cemetery, is to lose almost a third of its whole land area, as 45,000 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves are likely to be exhumed and cremated or reintered, starting from 2018.
Born Abdullah Mohamed Kassim, Dollah Kassim, was one of Singapore’s best and most famous footballers in the 1970s. Dubbed ‘Gelek King’ – a nickname referring to his legendary ball control and dribbling which allowed him to ‘dance’ past opposing defenders – Kassim is perhaps best known for winning the Malaysia Cup for Singapore in 1977, for the first time in 12 years.
The national top scorer had also led his team to win against Burma and Thailand among other international and nationals squads.
On 4 October 2009, Kassim collapsed due to a seizure and cardiac issues during a friendly match between former international players from Singapore and Malaysia in the Sultan of Selangor Cup due to a seizure and a cardiac event. He was hospitalised at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in critical condition.
Kassim passed away on 14 October 2010 after being in a coma for a year. He was 61 years old.
In his condolence letter to Kassim’s family after his passing, MP Vivian Balakrishnan who was then-Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports said:
“He was a legend, and a sports hero for all Singaporeans. I can still vividly remember his dazzling dribbling skills and prowess on the soccer pitch during the 1970s Malaysia Cup campaigns. He was a champion in the fullest sense of the word. He and his team mates of that era represented a vital precious phase in our collective memories. They united us as one people.”
Kassim’s grave will be exhumed once it reaches a 15-year burial limit.
Another influential figure whose grave will be disturbed is former Hong Kah GRC MP, Harun Ghani who was also the political secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs from 1989 to 2001.
Ghani is most well-known for his initiatives to counter drug abuse, especially by pioneering “meet-the-family” sessions from 1995, where families of drug addicts became involved in their rehabilitation process. His work particularly helped the Malay-Muslim community combat drug addiction.
Ghani also personally counselled ex-addicts and their families at a variety of locations as circumstances demanded – from drug rehabilitation centres to even coffeeshops.
He passed away ten years later, in 2005.
This is not the first time en masse exhumations are to take place in the interest of redevelopment in Singapore. More than 3000 graves were exhumed from Bukit Brown Cemetery from 2013 to make way for a new road. In the early 2000s, all of the graves at Bidadari Cemetery were exhumed and the cemetery was entirely cleared for new HDB flats.
Choa Chu Kang Cemetery could previously be used for burials until 2130 at its original size. It is unclear how long the cemetery can accept new burials with the appropriation of a third of the land.