South African cities run short of space for ceme­ter­ies

The Star Malaysia - - World -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG: In the mid­dle of the vast Avalon ceme­tery in Jo­han­nes­burg’s Soweto town­ship, two gravedig­gers shov­elled 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.

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 re-opened 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.

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 po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence and HIV/AIDS, say of­fi­cials.

“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, said.

Peo­ple seek­ing burial space could soon be turned away, he warned.

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 re-open 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.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.