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.


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.


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.”

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