South African cities short of ceme­tery space

Iran Daily - - Society -

In the mid­dle of the vast Avalon ceme­tery in Jo­han­nes­burg’s Soweto town­ship, two gravedig­gers shov­eled soil out of an old grave con­tain­ing re­mains buried years ago.

They were pre­par­ing the grave to be reused as towns across South Africa are fast run­ning out of space to bury the dead, ac­cord­ing to AFP.

Pop­u­la­tion growth, mi­gra­tion to ur­ban ar­eas and an in­flux of for­eign­ers has put huge pres­sure on land in ur­ban ar­eas. Adding to the prob­lem is a cul­tural re­sis­tance to the prac­tice of cre­ma­tion.

Be­tween 45 and 60 graves are re­opened each week on av­er­age to al­low for sec­ond buri­als in Jo­han­nes­burg, the coun­try’s largest city and eco­nomic hub.

Au­thor­i­ties warn that if no ac­tion is taken to change how the dead are laid to rest, ur­ban ar­eas will run out of room in as lit­tle as 50 years.

“Burial space is fast di­min­ish­ing. This is caused by the fact that Joburg is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing high mi­gra­tion,” said Reg­gie Moloi, the city’s ceme­ter­ies and cre­ma­to­ria man­ager.

Jo­han­nes­burg is not the only city in South Africa bat­tling the short­age.

The south­east­ern coastal city of Dur­ban raised the alarm more than a decade ago.

The city had an un­usu­ally high death rate in the 1980s, hav­ing been par­tic­u­larly hard hit by, among other things, HIV/AIDS, say of­fi­cials.

‘Run out of burial space’

“We no­ticed that ceme­ter­ies then filled up in a short­est pe­riod of time and that quite soon ... (we were) go­ing to run out of burial space,” Them­binkosi Ng­cobo, the head of parks in ethek­wini, which in­cludes Dur­ban, told AFP.

Peo­ple seek­ing burial space could soon be turned away, he warned. “We are fac­ing a very se­ri­ous prob­lem.” “The sit­u­a­tion is dire and not read­ily un­der­stood... be­cause to the eye it seems there is suf­fi­cient (space),” said De­nis Ing, the deputy chair­man of the South African Ceme­ter­ies As­so­ci­a­tion.

The pub­lic did not grasp the scale of the prob­lem, he said.

The cri­sis has pushed of­fi­cials to think cre­atively about how best to dis­pose of the dead.

While re­cy­cling graves has helped ease the sit­u­a­tion, cre­ma­tion still faces sig­nif­i­cant re­sis­tance from African com­mu­ni­ties, which see it as un­nat­u­ral and against tradition.

At Rood­e­poort near Soweto, the Si­pamla fam­ily buried 87-year-old mother and grand­mother Caro­line Si­pamla in the same grave as her son.

“Grave­yards are very full,” said Pu­leng Si­pamla as un­der­tak­ers cov­ered the re­mains of her mother.

“We thought it would be eas­ier for us to re­open and it’s cheaper than dig­ging a new grave.”

Si­pamla had made her feel­ings known on the mat­ter, said her grand­daugh­ter Zoleka Si­pamla, 23.

“She was pretty clear – no cre­ma­tion.”

Rev­erend Harold Ginya of the Church of the Nazarene en­cour­ages his wor­ship­pers to re­use graves – but dis­cour­ages cre­ma­tion.

“We are pro­mot­ing this kind of thing. No one will com­plain that you are on top of me,” he said.

Few black Africans are cre­mated in Dur­ban, with just one a week on av­er­age com­pared to dozens of buri­als.

Dur­ing a re­cent cam­paign to raise aware­ness of the cri­sis, it be­came clear that some peo­ple in the port city were skep­ti­cal of shared graves, said Ng­cobo.

The in­creas­ing land de­mands of the liv­ing could mean that, among other things, grave re­cy­cling would be­come manda­tory, of­fi­cials warn.

The sit­u­a­tion could be eased by a con­tro­ver­sial con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment pro­posed by the gov­ern­ment, which would al­low the forcible trans­fer of land to re­dress the in­equal­i­ties of apartheid and colo­nial­ism.

“We be­lieve that ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land with­out com­pen­sa­tion will as­sist us in ad­dress­ing these chal­lenges,” the mayor of ethek­wini Zandile Gumede said ear­lier this year.

Un­til then, des­per­ate times are calling for des­per­ate mea­sures, in­clud­ing the pos­si­ble box­ing and stor­age of re­mains older than 30 years in the cor­ner of ex­ist­ing graves.


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