Shock burial plans for SA

17 October 2013 - 03:07 By NIVASHNI NAIR
File photo of a coffin.
File photo of a coffin.
Image: Marianne Pretorius

High-rise cemeteries, sea burials and coffin stacking in graves have been offered as solutions to the burial-space crisis facing some of South Africa's big cities.

More than half the country's cemeteries are at full capacity.

The national conference of the SA Cemeteries Association in Durban heard yesterday that the situation was so dire that communities would have to be convinced that new ways of burying loved ones would have to be found.

Ekurhuleni is considering burying family members in one grave and is in discussions with Burial Cell Systems, which offers above-ground prefab mausoleums.

Coffins are stacked on top of each other. Each cell or cubicle costs about R22000.

Ekurhuleni is considering installing them at cemeteries that have reached their capacity.

Dorah Kiki, of the SA Local Government Association, said alternatives to conventional burial included cremation, sea burials, grave recycling, mausoleums and alkaline hydrolysis (the remains are dissolved).

But a study by the association has found that cultural and religious beliefs made new burial methods unacceptable to communities.

"Some municipalities are employing cremation and space-intensive methods of burial. However, there has been little progress because of cultural and religious beliefs," Kiki said.

She said the study found that many people regarded cemeteries as more than just a place for burials.

"It is a place of spiritual and cultural reference."

Kiki urged municipal officials to investigate why alternative methods had been rejected and to educate communities about the burial-space crisis.

Most Hindus and a growing number of white and coloured Christians were choosing cremation, delegates heard.

Riad Fataar, of the Muslim Judicial Council, said above-ground alternatives were contrary to Muslim religious beliefs.

"Muslims support the re-use of graves and we have helped the City of Cape Town by choosing to be buried in the same graves as family members, but anything that is above ground is just something that we will not go for.

"I recently attended the opening of a crematorium and I can definitely say it's not what Muslims will want to do," he said.

Burial Society of SA general secretary Zulu Ratswana said alternatives could not be imposed on more than 100000 burial societies.

"We object to the way the process has been started. Our members have not been sensitised to all these alternatives."

He said cremation was foreign to blacks but, if municipalities were prepared to consult the people, communities would adapt.

Despite having 65 cemeteries, eThekwini began to run out of burial space years ago, prompting it to introduce grave recycling, which outraged many in the community.

The Department of Home Affairs registers at least 89000 deaths in Durban every year. Municipal figures show that fewer than 10000 bodies were buried and about 2500 were cremated.

The municipality's Pepe Dass said the city was investigating because the discrepancy indicated a large number of illegal burials, or corrupt graveyard officials were pocketing cash and not recording burials.

Sanelisiwe Mongoai of Ekurhuleni Municipality, said only 19 of its 63 cemeteries were in use - "The rest are all full."

Only three of the 12 cemeteries in Bloemfontein and Botshabelo still have burial space.

Ncedisa Ntulini, of Mangaung Municipality, said cemeteries in Thaba Nchu will be full in five years.

The municipality has one crematorium.

Johannesburg is establishing a new cemetery in Olifantsvlei to create burial space for the next 45 years.

Acting general manager for cemeteries Alan Buff will today present a report on the state of the city' s cemeteries at the conference.