Insight into why no cost spared on funerals

Labour Q&A with Terry Bell

Cape Town - Fin24 user Thando Tshangela reckons providing for one's funeral not only ensures a dignified send-off, but also alleviates the burden death can place on those left behind.

He was responding to Terry Bell's Inside Labour column: Taking a better look at life – and death, where Bell made a connection between the state of the nation's indebtedness and the vast amounts of money spent on burials.

Bell wrote that "we, as a nation, are deeply in debt. And that is very worrying, with declining disposable incomes, the rising costs of living and with the festive season fast approaching".

Referring to his own research Bell said what he found surprising was that "we, in South Africa, seem to spend a great deal more time and money preparing for death rather than for life, with funeral policies the major insurance products purchased".

He wrote that most South Africans, it seems, see provision for funerals as a priority.  

"It is not because we accept the inevitability of death; it seems that most families feel compelled to endure the massive expense that most modern funerals entail. And funeral costs have risen faster than inflation and have driven many families into desperate debt," he wrote.

Tshangela gave some insight into why provision for funerals is a priority. He writes:

"In his article Bell writes that ‘most South Africans, it seems, see provision for funerals as a priority’.

This is true for most Africans because a dignified send-off is more important than living a life of luxury.

People who fail to adequately cater for their burial when they are dead become a burden to family members and friends who are left behind, as they need to pool together resources to help bury the deceased.

Moreover, no one wants to suffer the indignity of a pauper’s burial or a sub-standard funeral. And some community members who do not have the luxury to go out on weekends see funerals as a kind of social gathering where they can wear their best outfits and eat the best food.

So, families want to ensure that the funeral ceremony is decent so that people can talk good of them and think that they are well off.

For those who have an extra rand to spare, a funeral also offers an opportunity to meet up with friends for the so-called after tears where the thirsty funeral attendees come together to indulge in alcoholic beverages to ostensibly wash away the sorrow for losing a loved one.

It is widely reported that Nigerians may even wait for months in order to have a decent funeral for the dearly departed.

Having a good send-off for the dead might just give you that status in the community, as the funeral will be the talk of the town for a couple of weeks after the burial.

Africans believe in the ancestors and when a person dies, it is believed that he becomes an ancestor and lives perpetually in the netherworld. So most families, poor and rich alike, would not want to raise the ire of the ancestors by giving the deceased family member a shabby send-off.

In African communities it is undeniably a shame for a family to be unable to bury their own but it is a sad state of affairs that the entrepreneurial, those who see an opportunity to make money in every situation, have jumped on the bandwagon to take advantage of the beliefs of ordinary people who just want to give their loved ones the best funeral ever.

Even though it will take a lot of persuasion to convince most communities that to save the environment, it is better to cremate one’s dearly departed than to bury them in a grave, it is not a totally insurmountable task."

* Add your voice or just drop Terry a labour question. Follow Terry on twitter @telbelsa.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on Fin24 have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.

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