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The search for an alternative to burials

Durban – The shortage of burial space in cities is a global issue.

Durban has recently announced that the city would run out of burial space by next year. Therefore there is a need to create more awareness about alternative burials for loved ones.

This was said during the recent second Pan African Cemeteries and Crematoria Conference in Durban.

It brought together experts from around the world to address the shortage of burial spaces globally.

According to the chairperson of the South African Cemeteries Association, Pepe Dass, while some municipalities were trying to address the issue, very little was being done to effectively reach people to communicate the challenges cities were facing in obtaining land for burials.

He said an alternative to single grave burials was an undeniable must.

Dass, who spoke at the conference, said burials were not sustainable.

According to the municipality, Durban has 65 cemeteries containing 550 000 graves and each grave site holds an average of three bodies – amounting to 1.6 million graves.

Most cemeteries in Durban are filled to capacity with less than 5000 unused graves remaining.

By the end of January next year, the city will have run out of burial space.

For this reason, Dass said there needed to be a campaign aimed at spreading awareness for the consideration of alternatives to burials.

This needed to take place at schools and universities, he said.

“Most countries in Europe and Asia are cremating as they have made a conscious choice to move to this practice due to challenges for land and to ensure a sustainable environment. Prices for graves are expensive and will continually increase,” he said.

Dass said the fastest move to cremation would come from minority groups who were already accepting it.

“The facilities to cater for this movement are inadequate. Metros must look at increasing the development of these facilities immediately by zoning land and investing, researching and procuring the best equipment,” he said.

Dass said a trend was starting to emerge where some black South Africans were beginning to understand the real challenges.

“It is my belief that this group will expand very quickly in the near future, thus further increasing the need for well-designed crematoria facilities,” he said.

However, the cultural significance of burials could not be underestimated, according to another speaker at the conference, Dr Thuli Mphambukeli.

Mphambukeli, a senior lecturer at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of the Free State, said there were cultural beliefs associated with the visiting of loved ones’ graves, and many people still felt a connection to their deceased loved ones.

According to cultural and language expert Professor Sihawukele Ngubane, some people view cremation as a curse and an insult to the dead.

“Once a person dies he or she occupies the highest rank on the ancestral list and becomes a provider for the living.

“At the burial site if a man of the house dies, he is given seeds and spears with the belief that he will look after the house and bring luck. The idea of cremation among Zulu people is very unpopular for the reason that once the body is cremated it will need cleansing in order to be accepted in the afterlife,” he said.

Ngubane said that Zulus believed in life after death.

“Death is viewed as the beginning of a new person’s deeper relationship with all of creation and the start of ancestral life.

“As a result, any person who dies must be afforded a proper funeral, and in the view of the Zulu people it is a burial.

“It is also believed that if you fail to do so the dead person may become a ghost and a danger to those who are left behind,” he said.

Ngubane said many people believed that once a person was cremated, they lost their dignity and certain rituals would not be observed.

There were rituals that took place at the grave that were respected by different religions, and it was left to the family to pay their last respects to their loved ones.

“When you put sand into the grave it is the time for closure. One may also keep in mind that in African culture we share grief and therefore the community wants to support the bereaved family to the last ritual.

“The perception is that these rituals are not considered and the community do not form part of the departing soul. In order to change the perception among Zulu people, people should be allowed to choose the way they wish to be buried. It should be left to the individual to decide while he or she is alive,” he said.

Ngubane said the other option was to allow people to go to their rural homes for burials, and those who could not afford that should find a space or a farm somewhere outside the city for burial purposes.

“Recycling of graves is also not acceptable but people do compromise if people belonging to the same family are buried together.

“It is my view that a space outside the urban area should be identified so that we can find a resting place for our loved ones,” he said.

Source: The Mercury