Ethekiwini plans to exhume and preserve human remains to solve grave shortage
Durban - With fewer than 5 000 burial sites available in its cemeteries, the eThekwini municipality is set to embark on an ambitious new project to exhume and preserve remains at a disused cemetery. The city will also encourage other forms of disposing of remains and consider purchasing additional burial land.
The head of Parks, Recreation and Culture, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, said the remaining vacant burial sites would be filled in about six months.
The unit would implement a pilot project where the Loon Road Cemetery would become the permanent resting place for the preservation of recycled human remains.
“The Loon Road Cemetery is more than 80 years old and inactive. It has about 12 000 grave sites. Our proposal, which was accepted a few years ago, was that we will pilot a project where after every 10 years, we exhume human remains and store them in small containers, similar to an ashes urn,” Ngcobo said.
He said people preferring traditional burial practices was the reason behind the shortage of burial sites.
“Re-use of grave sites is not new. It was always done from way back. In some cemeteries, each site holds an average of three bodies, but the challenge with recycling is that if it keeps being done on the same land, the soil gets exhausted and is therefore not conducive for the body to decompose,” he said.
Ngcobo said it was important for churches and community leaders to discuss alternative burials such as cremation.
“I understand that burial alternatives such as cremation and recycling are considered inconsistent with religious and cultural beliefs, but at the same time it is important for people to realise the current problem and the need to lay to rest loved ones,” he said.
The chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), Professor David Mosoma said recycling graves was not consistent with African beliefs.
“It’s a sacred space for people to communicate their challenges and successes with their loved ones. This (recycling) disturbs that process because you would find a different person in the grave. It disturbs their prayer,” Mosoma said.
He said the city should provide them with a list of recycled graves so the commission could identify affected communities who believed their bad luck was because the link between the living and the dead was cut - there had to be a sense of reconciliation and closure.
“The city should secure burial space,” he said, adding that people should not feel forced to act against their belief systems.
Ngcobo said the process to buy additional land for burial space was still proceeding and was being handled by the Real Estate department.
At the end of 2017, the municipality had announced that it was looking to establish a new cemetery at Farm Broadvale and Inanda Farm.
In2Assets Property Specialists marketer Virend Deonarain said, however, that the eThekwini and Umdoni municipalities had failed to participate in their public auction of the Broadvale land on August 20.
“All the studies and reports have been done. The land has about 500 000 approved burial sites and out of those, 300 000 are ready to be used,” Deonarain said. On the fall of the hammer, the highest price received was R43.5 million, which was rejected by the sellers, he said.
“The eThekwini Municipality continuously advertises the shortage of burial space, but it is not willing to show commitment,” Deonarain said.
He said the land was about a 45-minute drive from Durban.
The municipality had not responded to Deonarain’s comments by the time of publication.