Space has run out in Mthatha’s main cemetery – so the dead are being buried on the grass verge alongside one of the town’s busiest roads.
There’s no fence separating people from freshly dug graves and newly laid headstones along King Sabata Dalindyebo Road, which links Mthatha to Mqanduli, which is about 40km away.
Sutton Cemetery is the only operating burial site for the approximately 500?000 residents of the King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality, whose seat is in Mthatha.
Because of cultural and religious reasons, people are unwilling to cremate their loved ones. The municipality says people are also unhappy with having to “bury people in the rural areas where they originally come from”.
After each busy burial weekend – between 12 and 15 people are interred at Sutton Cemetery on Saturdays and Sundays – there are new graves next to the grass verge of King Sabata Dalindyebo Road, which is surrounded by the suburbs of Mbuqe Park, Mbuqe Extension and Ikhwezi township.
The municipality’s spokesperson, Sonwabo Mampoza, said research had revealed in 2011 that Mthatha simply doesn’t have enough land for new burial sites.
Most municipal land in the area is the subject of land claims, which further complicates matters.
“The municipality is really in urgent need of burial space. There is literally no more space in Sutton for on-site burials. It’s an urgent matter now. The council will have to sit down and make a decision fast,” Mampoza said.
“We want to encourage our people to use alternative ways to bury loved ones, such as doing cremations or burying people in the rural areas where they originally come from.”
The closest crematorium is in East London, 220km away, and can be costly.
“If we fail to convince our people to cremate, we might be sitting with a crisis and have illegal graves all over the place,” he said.
“The municipality plans to refence Sutton Cemetery to ensure that this sacred place is dignified, and to protect the nearby communities.”
Sutton Cemetery has been in use for more than a century.
Initially, Sutton was the site for pauper burials, but that has changed over the years.
Another site, the Northcrest Cemetery, isn’t being used any more: only a few people were buried there before it was found to be unsuitable because the soil was eroding rapidly.