- Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku says there is capacity for 1.5 million grave sites in the province.
- This does not mean they are digging 1.5 million graves in preparation for Covid-19 deaths.
- Masuku added that assessing the grave site capacity is part of their response plan to the pandemic.
Assessing burial capacity in Gauteng is part of the Covid-19 response plan, but is in no way a suggestion the deaths will reach that point.
These were the remarks made by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku on Thursday as he sought to explain comments he made about the preparation of grave sites in the province.
On Wednesday, Masuku was quoted as saying: "We are preparing over 1.5 million grave sites, it is an uncomfortable discussion as a medical practitioner."
Masuku added that it's a "reality we need to deal with, and we need to be prepared".
"It's important that we remind our public that it still remains our responsibility to make sure that we don't get there."
Later, Masuku visited the Honingnestkrans cemetery, in the north of Pretoria, to assess the state of readiness of cemeteries in the event that many people die over a short space of time because of the virus.
The Honingnestkrans cemetery has space for 24 000 single graves on the 30-hectare plot of land.
While at the cemetery, a question was posed to Masuku about his statement on 1.5 million graves being prepared.
The MEC then clarified and said Gauteng has over 1.5 million grave sites in existence. He added that it was a combined figure.
"Preparing [of grave sites] will be dependent on how the pandemic actually evolves, but what we have available currently in the province, those are the numbers we can be able to cater for."
In a move to clarify his statements around the graves, Masuku told 702 on Thursday: "It's not about digging craves for Covid-19, it's about preparing grave sites generally to make sure that the capacity is okay - and it's not a suggestion in any way that our death rate will reach that point."
The MEC added that the assessing of capacity is part of the response plan.
"There was no point where the department said we are digging; what we mentioned was that we are preparing the grave sites and it is part of the response plan.
"It's not about confusing messages, it's maybe about what people infer on what we communicate, and it becomes quite unfortunate if people infer in a very negative way," Masuku told the radio station.
Masuku added that these responses were standard in preparing for a pandemic.
City of Johannesburg mayoral spokesperson Mlimandlela Ndamase echoed similar sentiments to 702, saying that they are not specifically going out to dig graves for Covid-19 related deaths.
"At no point to do we anticipate that we will lose 20% of the population of Johannesburg to fill up those 1.4 million burial sites in the city, even with Covid-19, and even in the event of any natural disaster that may occur," Ndamase told the radio station.
News24 earlier reported that the Gauteng Department of Health had released a statement to clarify Masuku's comments, to say that the MEC was referring to the collective capacity that all municipalities in the province can take.
"The province does not have over a million already open dug graves, the over a million graves refers to the collective capacity municipalities can take," the statement read.