Durban’s largest cemetery, Stellawood municipal cemetery, in Umbilo. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)
Durban’s largest cemetery, Stellawood municipal cemetery, in Umbilo. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)

If Covid-19 takes hold, more people will turn to cremation

By Duncan Guy Time of article published May 23, 2020

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Durban - Cremations rather than burials were likely to become more common if Covid-19 caused an increase in deaths, even among people whose cultures shunned the idea.

Last week, the Independent on Saturday published an article about the shortage of graves and concern that the problem could be exacerbated if there was a spike in Covid-19 deaths.

Cremators and funeral parlours told the Independent on Saturday that a change in attitude towards cremations was likely because of the grave shortage of space in eThekwini’s 65 cemeteries.

“Cultural aspects are slowly becoming redundant, overcome by pragmatism and practical means to move in to cremation,” said Moses Mujati, chief operations officer of Icebolethu Funerals.

“Covid-19 will show that we don’t need to do intense funerals. It’s brought people to Ground Zero. They realise it’s unsustainable.”

He added that black African people, whose culture traditionally shunned cremations, would also be attracted to them, for financial reasons.

“Cremations are a third of the price (of funerals),” said Mujati.

He also said the idea of bodies buried on top of strangers, because of the shortage of grave space, was unappealing to many.

Mujati said, however, that the move to cremation had not yet taken hold.

Dallas Gilbert, the owner of Oakleigh Funeral Home, said there was a growing community of Westernisation and an abandoning of heritage among indigenous, traditional folk who might not hold on that tightly to culture and burial.

However, traditions remained very strong.

Those who opted for burial on cultural and ancestral grounds still insisted on burial, even if it was in a back yard in a township, where failed councils could not provide space, Gilbert said.

“South Africa is rich in culture and ancestral practises and won’t be easily persuaded otherwise in the short term.

“These cultures honour their dead in ways unknown or forgotten by the West and again will go to great lengths to bury.”

Crematoriums were of the opinion that the trend was already showing.

“We have had quite a few black African people being cremated. There is a trend going that route,” said Thegraj Kassie, the secretary of the Clare Estate Umgeni Hindu Crematorium Society.

Kassie said cremations were also becoming more appealing because of the vandalising of gravestones.

Arthur Wilmans, founder of the Cedar Ridge Crematorium in Cato Ridge, said that urbanisation and the costs of funerals were making cremations more attractive, and he noted a steady increase in cases at a rate of 6% a year.

“It’s a huge cultural shift,” he said.

eThekwini Municipality was approached for comment, but did not respond.

The Independent on Saturday 

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