Finance – Black Funerals
Data reveals that South Africans spend anything from R15 000 to R200 000 to give their loved ones a dignified burial. Perhaps it’s time we ask ourselves whether the need to put on an expensive production is really worth the debt
Eyebrows were raised recently when it was revealed that the tombstone of the late rapper Linda ‘ProKid’ Mkhize cost a staggering R100 000. Questions swirled around if the money could have been better used, by creating an educational trust for his daughter, for instance.
The truth is, extravagant funerals have become the order of the day, and not just among celebrities.
The local funeral industry is a lucrative one, at between R7-R10 billion. It’s an industry dominated by a handful of major players, that’s why Minister in The Presidency, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, championed the call for radical transformation of the industry at the inaugural Funeral Indaba held in Durban in September last year.
The idea is that, if the industry opens up more opportunities for black-owned businesses to become part of the entire funeral value chain, this won’t only economically empower more black people, but would create more competition and have the potential to drive down the exorbitant price tag attached to funerals.
This would be most welcome, considering that Dr Lawrence Konyana, the president of the National Funeral Directors Association, says the average cost of a funeral starts from around R15 000 and that’s just for the bare basics – no frills. A top-of-the-range funeral where no expense is spared for the coffin, tombstone, flowers, tent hire and catering – can set you back as much as R200 000.
While South Africans live by the mantra that “bigger is better” – evident in the larger-than-life tombstones we see popping up everywhere (think of the mammoth marble TV-room setup that Bataung Tombstones designed for the late TV icon Joe Mafela) – globally, people are adopting the principle that “less is more” with natural burials, some of whom simply wrap their loved ones in a decomposable blanket and bury them without a casket. With no embalming chemicals or steel caskets used, this form of burial is one of the cheapest and environmentally friendly ways of burying one. Best of all, nobody gets into debt.
CULTURE VS EGO
Most black people will argue that African cultural constructs is simply wrapped in grand decor, caskets, tombstones and even the food you serve at a funeral, all indicators of just how much you loved the deceased.
Money psychologist Winnie Kunene is emphatic when she says no such thing exists. The problem, she argues, is that black people have normalised the practice of spending exorbitant amounts of money under the guise of paying their respects. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to give your loved one a dignified send off, Kunene says it can’t come at the expense of your finances.
“Black funerals have become a way for families to display opulence and wealth. What many people won’t admit to, is they’ve actually had to borrow money to pull it off,” she says.
She recalls attending a funeral and a lavish after-tears where a catered three-course meal was served. The family had even hired waiters to serve their guests and fellow mourners. She believes this type of opulence has nothing to do with honouring our loved ones and is really more about our desire to show-off.
“When we spend all that money, I think we’re really honouring our own egos and trying to impress our communities. We don’t want our friends, neighbours and families to think less of us or to judge us for not putting on a good show for them,” she explains.
It’s this very school of thought that gets so many South African families stuck in the debt trap for months, and sometimes even years after their loved one’s passing.
SAVING STRATEGIES — BEST PRACTICE
Taking out a funeral policy is the most affordable way to save for funeral costs and to ensure multiple family members will be taken care of, but the key is to keep your spending within the perimeters of your funeral cover payout. “A good funeral plan should cover more than just the hard cost of the funeral,” says Tendani Matshisevhe, Head of Marketing and Communications at Sanlam Developing Markets. He advises you look out for policies that offer planning stage benefits like repatriation of the body, the erecting of the tombstone, counselling as well as grocery and memorial benefits.
When you’re shopping around for a funeral policy, don’t forget to take the impact of inflation into consideration. “Consider taking a five-year view and adjusting the cover amount accordingly,” advises Nthabiseng Sethabela-Makoeng, Product Manager at FNB Life, “This is more practical than reviewing and adjusting your cover amount on a yearly basis.”
As unconventional as it may sound, Kunene says the best way to cut back on unnecessary funeral costs is by having open, honest conversations with our loved ones – particularly our parents – around what they want so your choices are informed by their wishes. “You’d find most would rather spend money on furthering their children’s education and building their future instead of throwing it towards a costly funeral production.”