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Ekurhuleni is running out of burial space – and it is believed that the dead and the living could end up competing for space in the future if a solution is not found.
The municipality’s cemeteries are speedily reaching capacity, and only 19 of its 63 cemeteries are in use, with 44 having already filled up. And soon there’ll be only 17 cemeteries left as two of the 19 are projected to reach capacity at the end of the year.
In the past eight years, 10 cemeteries reached capacity in the area.
“We are faced with the reality that there is not enough land for burial, and people also need homes. Who do we prioritise? The dead will end up competing for space with the living if we don’t start finding a solution now,” Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality spokesman Sam Modiba said.
In stark contrast, the City of Joburg has sufficient burial space for the next 65 years.
City Parks spokeswoman Jenny Moodley said while Newclare, Roodepoort and Alexandra are the only areas whose residents have limited burial space, there was 800 hectares available for Joburg’s dead, which equates to 1.6 million new graves.
As of October 2011, the Ekurhuleni Municipality had only 342 hectares available for burial space. The municipality found that some of the contributing factors had been people from other municipalities using their graves because of their more affordable rates.
Another challenge was that some cemeteries were unsuitable for burials because of the underlying rock and underground water.
Migration to Ekurhuleni in search of jobs was another reason why there was not enough burial space in Ekurhuleni.
In order to tackle the burial space challenge, the municipality introduced an alternative strategy that encourages second and third interment, as well as cremation. These are offered at a lower rate than traditional burial.
However, many people have not been receptive to the alternatives – especially cremation – because of their cultural and religious beliefs.
The municipality has roped in traditional leaders and undertakers to help sway residents.
“You have to understand that this is a very emotive and sensitive issue, and those cultural and religious issues are the ones we need to address as we deal with this issue.
The problem is that people are dying at a quick rate compared to many years ago. You can go to a cemetery on a Saturday and find there are 10 funerals going on simultaneously,” Modiba said.
Ndela Ntshangase, a retired University of KwaZulu-Natal lecturer, said he did not see the resistance towards cremation, especially among black people, ending anytime soon.
Black people, Ntshangase said, view a grave as a loved one’s final resting place, somewhere they also go when they want to communicate with ancestral spirits.
As a result, they don’t understand cremation and it’s difficult for them to accept it because to them, by burning the body, you are burning the spirit too.