Share a grave, save space: City’s plea to residents as cemeteries fill up

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Graves at the Oliefantsvlei cemetery near Vanvalley. Picture:  Trevor Kunene
Graves at the Oliefantsvlei cemetery near Vanvalley. Picture: Trevor Kunene

After years of warning South Africans about limited graveyard spaces, the city of Ekurhuleni has called for people to “consider other burial options”, including cremation and having more than one person in one grave.

This was according to the metro’s spokesperson, Themba Gadebe, who told City Press: “Our graves can take up to three people. Three people in one grave.”

The city urged residents to consider other options to save burial space, such as second and third interment.

“The bylaws make provision for multiple interments in one grave on condition that an application has been made to the cemetery officer and written permission has been granted.”

According to Gadebe, second and third interments allow for more than one and up to three individuals to be buried in one grave.

However, he said this would not just be conducted with any and every one.

“So you can decide that ‘when I die, I want to be buried with my mother’, for instance. So the city is able to make that arrangement for a person to be buried with a loved one when requested. A husband can decide to be buried in the same grave as his wife, and children can do the same with their parents, for instance,” he told City Press.

“We don’t just open any grave and put you with strangers. Families arrange this.”

He added: “No one would want to be buried with strangers, so in circumstances under which an individual does not have family in that graveyard for instance, that person would be buried normally.”

According the city, its cemeteries “are approaching full capacity for new burials, with just 30% of the vacant burial space remaining across the city”.

“We have been warning people for years now about graveyard spaces being limited. As far back as 2015,” Gadebe said.

“It is important to note that the quality of land required for burial is similar to the quality of land required for housing. We can’t just use substandard land for burial. Our indication has been that our people should now open up to different options.

“One option is where family members opt to be buried with their family in one grave. The other option people can consider is cremation,” he added.

cemeteries are approaching full capacity for new burials, with just 30% of the vacant burial space remaining across the city.

While agreeing with Gadebe on the specificity of the land required for as a burial site, senior manager for cemeteries and cremation for the City of Johannesburg Reggie Moloi said that his metro was not worried just yet.

“Eventually all cemeteries will approach full capacity but, in the City of Johannesburg, we are not there yet,” he told City Press.

“In about 15 to 16 years we will probably start worrying but with the four cemeteries we have at the moment in the city we won’t worry in the next two years for instance.”

He added: “With Joburg being a city with a lot of migration we know that in the future we will have to secure new land that is suitable for burial and the competing factor is that that land is similar to the land suitable for housing.”

According to Gadebe, cremation as an option is “more affordable” compared with the traditional burial.

“We do have facilities where different religions can conduct immediate burials on our facilities,” he said.

The city added: “Phumlani Cemetery in Etwatwa was closed on February 29 due to non-availability of burial space for first interment. However, the cemetery remains ready for second, in appropriate circumstances, third interment.”

Adding that: “Families who have arranged reserved graves can still bury on those spaces only if they can produce proof of reserved graves to cemetery officials.

“Nevertheless, the city has reserved a small portion of land at the Phumlani Cemetery for the burial of indigents and paupers only.”

According to Moloi, Olifantsvlei cemetery – which is “the biggest cemetery in the city at 400 hectares and can take up to 800 000 graves” – still had capacity for more graves and would not be approaching full capacity anytime soon.

“We currently have four active cemeteries in the city: West Park, Waterfall, Diepsloot and Olifantsvlei,” he said.

“West Park can hold 40 000 graves, Waterfall 140 000 and Diepsloot 120 000. So for the next few years we don’t have reason to worry.”

With Joburg being a city with a lot of migration we know that in the future we will have to secure new land that is suitable for burial and the competing factor is that that land is similar to the land suitable for housing
Reggie Moloi

Manager at Kingdom Blue Funeral Services, Molopi Bika, who has been in the industry for five years told City Press that she supported the call for the consideration of second and third interment.

“From working in this industry over the years, I have learnt that people prefer the normal burial over cremation even though cremation is more affordable,” she said.

“I have had people come to me and make arrangements to be buried in one grave with their spouse. I have not had a lot of cases like that but I have had some.”

“Cemeteries will one day run out of space and I think that this is a good idea.”



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