No room for the dead

2009-10-12 00:00

THE state of the cemeteries in the city has reached crisis point.

Of the nine cemeteries that fall under the Msunduzi Municipality, only three are operational, while the remaining six are closed. This was indicated in a report tabled at a recent sitting of the executive committee (Exco).

According to the report, an amount of R6 820 000 will be required over the next two financial years in order for all nine cemeteries to be maintained and rehabilitated to acceptable levels.

An additional R32 694 175 will be needed for the complete construction of the Hollingwood Cemetery (see story on the right).

If the report is anything to go by, the days of burials at Mountain Rise Cemetery are numbered.

“At the current burial rate, and with the influx of burials from Edendale, it is estimated the cemetery can continue to operate for another [approximately two] months, considering we are using space on road reserves,” states the report.

When the report was tabled, Deputy Mayor Mervyn Dirks said it first needed to go through to the finance committee before Exco can take a resolution.

When The Witness contacted DA councillor Rodger Ashe for comment, he said: “The question is: who suddenly woke up? This report should have come to us a lot sooner. We need to deal with this urgently.”

Ashe said he feels the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) should also contribute towards the cost of the cemeteries and it is imperative that council also look at the present upkeep of the cemeteries with urgency.

IFP councillor Dolo Zondi said the report was worrying, especially seeing as they have been raising the issue for years.

“I feel sorry for the residents of our city. Politicians have spoken about this on several occasions, but there’s a problem with management because they have failed to do the job properly,” he said.

When UMDM municipal manager S’bu Khuzwayo was asked to comment regarding possible financial contributions from the district, he said there have been no formal negotiations but if approached, they would welcome the engagement and proceed from there.

Attempts to get comment from parks and recreation director Steven Naick were unsuccessful, while deputy municipal manager for community services Zwe Hulane opted not to comment.

NESH Badool of Imbali Funerals said the city council has been aware of this problem for five- to six years and they should have addressed it instead of leaving it to the last minute. It seems those responsible are unwilling to work, he said, and besides burial space shortage, no maintenance is taking place.

He complained about the poor state of the roads, lax security and lack of water for those visiting graves, among other things.

A manager of another leading local burial home, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cemetery’s state is appalling.

“The place is unkempt. I went there with a family recently to refurbish a grave and I was ashamed of what I saw.

“The grass was overgrown, there were no markers on the graves and it took ages to find the site,” he said.

He also complained about those whose job it is to close graves.

“I’ve had to pay money to get people to close graves after 11 am on Saturdays because those responsible just say they don’t work after 11,” he said.

The Mountain Rise crematorium is the worst he had ever come across and he tells people not to go there because of the poor service, he said.

The owner of another city funeral parlour, who also requested anonymity, said he has received countless complaints from families about the city cemeteries, but no change is likely because council appear to be unconcerned.

“We need something more professional … there are no proper systems in place,” he said.

Mountain Rise Cemetery: It has 67 000 grave plots and deals with 3 500 burials a year. It urgently needs to be completely fenced and the main through road, as well as the dirt road leading to the new road, need to be refurbished. Features such as the entrance gate building, crematorium and the garden of remembrance need to enhanced. It will only be operational for the next estimated two months.

Azalea Cemetery: It handles approximately 3 500 burials a year, most of which are pauper burials. The boundary needs to be established by a complete fence and poor maintenance and alien plants are a problem. Indigenous trees need to planted and a stormwater management plan is necessary. The implementation of erosion prevention measures alongside access roads is required.

Willowfountain Community Cemetery: More than 1 000 burials have taken place in this cemetery, which caters to the Willowfountain community. The report states that this cemetery needs to be fenced and fully enclosed.

ACCORDING to the report, it has taken three years to find this site suitable for use as a cemetery. Once the Mountain Rise Cemetery is closed, its average 214 burials a month will be transferred to this site off New England Road.

“With an increase in burials of 10% per annum, the cemetery should have a lifespan of about 11 years.

“Should Azalea Cemetery reach capacity in the short term and 464 burials per month occur at the Hollingwood site, life expectancy would be reduced to around seven years. The assumption in this scenario is that no other cemetery is developed in the municipal area,” states the report.

The report claims that no objections were received regarding the use of this site as a cemetery. However, this is a direct contradiction of a letter written by ward councillor Ithiel Ngubane to the council speaker’s office, which concludes the item in the agenda.

“On the 6th of August [Thursday] I had organised a community meeting to report back on the land issue [Hollingwood] as I was requested by the community to express their disapproval of the use of the land as a graveyard,” writes Ngubane.

When asked to comment yesterday, Ngubane said he would rather not.

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