Durban – South African cities are running out of space to bury their dead. According to a report on Timeslive more than half the country’s cemeteries are at full capacity. The eThekwini municipality began to run out of space in its 65 cemeteries a couple of years ago; in Bloemfontein only three of the 12 cemeteries still have space while in Ekurhuleni east of Johannesburg 44 out of 63 cemeteries are full to capacity.
The situation is reportedly so dire that the national conference of SA Cemeteries Association in Durban heard that communities will have to be convinced to explore different ways to bury their loved ones, including above ground pre-fab mausoleums called Burial Cell Systems in which coffins are stacked on top of each other.
According to the SA Local Government Association’s Dorah Kiki, other alternatives to be considered include cremation, sea burials, grave recycling and alkaline hydrolysis in which the remains are dissolved.
The trouble however, is getting around traditional and religious beliefs. While most Hindus and a growing number of Christians are opting for cremation this runs counter to many of the black cultures in South Africa.
Although general secretary of the Burial Society of South Africa, Zulu Ratswana said it all depends on the implementation.
“We object to the way the process has been started. Our members have not been sensitised to all these alternatives,” he was quoted as saying. But said if municipalities were prepared to consult effectively with people, communities would certainly adapt.
—- SA Government Passes Bill —-
The South African government has effectively passed a bill which makes it compulsory for anyone who dies from 5 April onwards to be thrown into the sea to be fed to the sea creatures. This came after the sad realization that the country has run out of burial space.
The country’s municipality cemeteries are speedily reaching their fullest capacity, and only 19 of its 63 cemeteries are in use, with 44 having already been filled up. And soon there’ll be only 17 cemeteries left as two of the 19 are projected to reach full capacity at the end of the year. At the rate people are dying, all cemeteries are expected to be filled up on the 4th of April, meaning from the 5th, there will simply be no space to bury the dead.
In the past two years, 15 cemeteries reached capacity in the area.
“We are faced with the reality that there is not enough land for burial, and people also need homes. Who do we prioritise? The dead will end up competing for space with the living if we don’t start finding a solution now,” Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality spokesman Sam Modiba said.
He also added “We approached the government with two options. The first was that all dead people be thrown in the deep sea. For the sharks and various sea creatures to feast on. The second option was that we hire burial ground from different countries. We are in talks with Zimbabwe and have identified 30 hectares of land which is not being used. The negotiations are at an advanced stage now.”
“You have to understand that this is a very emotive and sensitive issue, and those cultural and religious issues are the ones we need to address as we deal with this issue.
The problem is that people are dying at a quick rate compared to many years ago. You can go to a cemetery on a Saturday and find there are 10 funerals going on simultaneously,” Modiba said.
Ndela Ntshangase, a retired University of KwaZulu-Natal lecturer, said he did not see the resistance towards the new bill, especially among black people, ending anytime soon.
Black people, Ntshangase said, view a grave as a loved one’s final resting place, somewhere they also go when they want to communicate with ancestral spirits.
As a result, they don’t understand that once you are dead, you are dead and it’s difficult for them to accept it because to them, by throwing the dead body in the sea, you are throwing away the spirit too.