Jozi running out of graveyard space: Here are the alternatives

09 November 2018 - 09:21 By Ntokozo Miya
Johannesburg residents have been asked to consider other burial methods as the city runs out of graveyard space.
Johannesburg residents have been asked to consider other burial methods as the city runs out of graveyard space.
Image: Image/iStock

With repeated warnings about the lack of graveyard space in South Africa, officials have asked people to consider other burial methods.

On Thursday, the City of Johannesburg echoed the call for residents to consider burying multiple loved ones in a single grave or opt for cremation. This was not the first time the city pleaded with residents to be open-minded to space-conserving burial methods.

In April, TimesLIVE reported that Johannesburg's MMC for Community Development, Nonhlanhla Sifumba, said graveyards had reached full capacity.

"It is our responsibility, as the current leaders, to ensure that future generations do not inherit the burden of managing cemeteries that have reached full capacity, without educating our residents on alternative burial options."

So, what are the other options? The answers may surprise you.

Green burials

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, a green funeral allows the body to decay naturally in a coffin made of biodegradable material.

Instead of a coffin, people have the option to dress the deceased in clothing or a shroud made of fabric capable of decaying naturally.

This means a single grave can be used for numerous burials over many years. Research surrounding how long it takes for the human body to decompose has yielded different results based on weather conditions and the type of burial chosen. 

But there seems consensus in the academic community that when buried 2 meters beneath the ground, the human body can take anything from 8 to 12 years to reach the final stages of decomposition.

Green burials are fast gaining popularity in the US but haven't quite caught on in Mzansi.

Pioneering this service in Gauteng is the Pretoria-based Sonja Smith Elite Funeral Group, which offers a range of coffins made from natural paper.

Mausoleum chamber

The Westpark Cemetery offers residents another option - an above-ground burial in a mausoleum. Instead of the deceased being interred in a grave below the ground, their remains, be they in a coffin or burial urn, are stored in a mausoleum, which is a storage chamber above the ground.

The Westpark Cemetery gives residents the option to have an above-ground burial where remains are stored in a mausoleum.
The Westpark Cemetery gives residents the option to have an above-ground burial where remains are stored in a mausoleum.
Image: Image/Northcliff Melville Times

Capsula mundi

Earlier this year, CNN reported on eco-friendly burial pods called capsula mundi. This innovative solution was developed by Italian designers Raoul Bretzel and Anna Citelli. 

Human remains are placed inside the pod, which is then placed below the ground. The remains decompose naturally and the biodegradable plastic pod breaks down, providing nutrition for the tree planted above. 

The designers envisioned cemeteries full of trees instead of tombstones, essentially "creating new life out of death." 

Burial pods are also ideal for ashes.

The trend hasn't hit local shores but producers are optimistic it will gain popularity for anyone keen on eco-friendly options.

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