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Cities urged to prepare mass graves as SA’s Covid-19 death count rises

Cape Town – The South African Cemeteries Association (SACA) has urged municipalities to plan ahead as even without the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, South African cities are facing the challenge of disposing of their remains, whether through burial or cremation of loved ones.

“Municipalities need to identify available graves in advance. If it is logistically impossible to bury huge numbers in single graves, then communal or mass graves must be prepared,” SACA warned.

The rate of Covid-19 infections seems to have remained steady during the lockdown period. However, city officials in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are already preparing for the worst.

These three cities are the most adversely affected by Covid-19, with a high rate of infections and several deaths.

Since South Africa’s Covid-19 death count climbed to 27 as of April 14, municipalities have been planning emergency cemeteries and considering the idea of mass burials if the death count rises even further.


A member of the Cape Town mayoral committee for community services and education, Zahid Badroodien, said several emergency steps had been discussed, including mass graves.

According to Badroodien, there is an ongoing process to allocate funds to cemeteries that could be extended, specifically for Covid-19 burials. In addition, if the death toll shoots up, the city will enforce weekday funeral time slots to accommodate demand.

Durban municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the city had chosen a versatile strategy, including recycling graves in 66 cemeteries, while looking to expand their existing boundaries.


In Johannesburg, Margaret Arnolds, a member of the mayoral committee, said the cemeteries and crematoria were ready for the looming threat of an increase in demand for mass burials due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Arnolds says the city’s three crematoria are capable of handling 41 people maximum a day, should the demand rise.