By Anel Powell
The increase in HIV and Aids-related deaths is making it impossible for the City of Cape Town to keep up with the demand for burial space.
Only four of the city's 31 public cemeteries will have space for new graves beyond 2012. Twenty-seven of the cemeteries are expected to be full within the next five years.
This rise in the rate of mortality, coupled with the rapid growth of the urban population, has made it "critical to develop cemeteries more quickly than was anticipated" in the city's seven-year plan.
The council has been asked to dig deep into its pockets for an extra R20,7-million over the next three years to build new cemeteries. This would be added to the R28,6-million already recommended in the city parks' proposed capital programme for new cemeteries during the same period.
The amount required to upgrade existing cemeteries and build new sites is R82-million.
New cemeteries would push up staffing costs, making it necessary for an extra allocation of R2,64-million in the 2007/2008 budget, R3,96-million in the next budget and R6,29-million for 2009/2010.
Grant Haskin, mayoral committee member of amenities and sport, said this allocation should be part of the city's budgeting process, currently under way.
But even with the city's current cemetery development programme, there will only be enough land to bury the dead for the next 15 years.
After this, "the identification of suitable land will be almost impossible in the metro", said.
Six new cemeteries have been planned for areas near low-cost housing, in Khayelitsha, Delft, Mfuleni, Somerset West, Grassy Park and Wallacedene.
Studies also identified the poor environmental performances of existing cemeteries. Many of the cemeteries were poorly located in terms of geohydrological conditions.
The poor infrastructure at some of the cemeteries has made the burial sites unappealing, creating an undignified experience for mourners, said Peter Delahunt, of city parks.
Delahunt said these plans required extensive consultation because of the cultural sensitivity regarding burial practices.
If cremation was a cultural taboo, mausoleums or above-ground burials would be considered.
The city is also investigating the possibility of recycling graves.
Delahunt said the legal processes required had to be done "as a matter of urgency" and included in cemetery bylaws.