Durban’s grave sites dilemma

2010-11-19 15:16

Durban is about to run out of space to bury its dead, said the eThekwini Municipality’s head of cemeteries, Thembinkosi Ngcobo.

Fifty-nine of the 60 cemeteries in Durban were already full, said Ngcobo at a discussion on the crisis.

“It is a huge dilemma. It has to be addressed quickly to avoid a disaster. We need to do something now,” he said.

He said the municipality had decided not to establish new cemeteries but introduce alternative burial methods.

These included vertical burials, cremation, freeze drying and the recycling of graves.

The new proposed methods have been fiercely criticised by the public. People argue that they will have an adverse impact on their cultural and religious practices and they have proposed that unproductive farms near the city be bought and used as burial sites.

The city is not supporting the idea not only because it is expensive to buy land and maintain graves but also because most of the vacant land is earmarked for development purposes.

It costs an estimated R20 million to develop a new cemetery and an extra R2 million to maintain each one on a monthly basis.

“People must understand that the issue of grave sites is competing with much-needed development to create jobs. There is no space even for development,” said Ngcobo.

He said the topography of Durban’s west was mountainous and unsuitable for burying people.

The workshop was also attended by academics, cultural experts and religious leaders.

Professor Sihawu Ngubane, the dean of human sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it was important for the municipality to try to find more space.

“African people have a lot of respect for the dead. They regard them as messengers between them and God. That is why they visit graves to communicate with them,” he said.

Ngcobo said the city understood people’s concerns but it had no option but to implement new methods.

Most people who spoke at the meeting were against the recycling of graves. Bophiwe Nxumalo said the city needed to consider allowing people to bury their loved ones in their yards.

“I have been told that people are allowed to do that in other countries. If a person decides to move, he or she can exhume the remains and move with them,” she said.

Edward Shembe of the Shembe Church said they were totally against cremation.

Some people urged government to intensify the fight against HIV-Aids as it was contributing to the increasing number of deaths.

Perfect Malimela said his church encouraged people to opt for cremations.

“When we saw that the city was running out of sites we sat down as a church and discussed it extensively. It was then decided that people who wanted to be cremated should be encouraged to do so,” he said.

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