Burial space running out in eThekwini as Covid-19 deaths spike
Durban - AS THE Covid-19 related death toll continues to spike in eThekwini and surrounding areas, the municipality is facing a looming disaster due to the increasing lack of burial space.
Funeral parlours are also under pressure from bereaved families who want to bury their loved ones urgently.
Funeral mogul Goodman Ncanda, of the Ncanda funeral group, said in his 17-year career in burial services, he had never buried so many people in such a short space of time.
“During the current second wave of Covid-19, I have had to bury an unprecedented 60 bodies in one day,” he said.
To add to the woes, said Ncanda, was the fact that Home Affairs offices were crowded with people applying for death certificates and burial orders.
“The number of deaths is growing fast. Home Affairs is having to deal with much higher volumes of applicants. The situation has reached a scale of untenable proportions,” he said, an sentiment echoed by several aggrieved members of the public who spoke to The Mercury.
Ncanda said the hardest hit areas were townships around the eThekwini regions and the neighbouring areas of Ndwedwe and KwaDukuza to the north.
“We have found an escalation in numbers in Ndwedwe to be quite alarming,” he said.
“For us, as a funeral service provider, we would welcome a situation whereby the government would place the country on level 5 lockdown in order to address this unbearable situation.”
Head of the city’s parks, recreation and culture department, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, said the second wave of Covid-19 had put an additional strain on the already limited burial space.
“In my entire career (spanning over 20 years) being responsible for cemeteries and crematoria, I have never been under the kind of pressure like we are having since the past two to three weeks,” he said.
“Demand for burial space has sky-rocketed, and this comes at a time when we are already imploring the public to explore new, unconventional ways of laying loved ones to rest, simply because in eThekwini, we have run out of space,” he said.
“Even before the pressure of the virus related deaths, there has been increasing pressure for families from the north of the city. For example, to have to consider going as further afield down south as uMkhomazi (Umkomaas) to see if even there, there is any available space.”
The city recently sparked the ire of traditional leaders and communities after it proposed that people consider cremation and deep ocean burial as alternatives to burying the conventional way, with amakhosi and traditional communities complaining those options went against their cultural beliefs.
Ngcobo said most of the “free” land was privately owned.
"Our study has found that suitable available land is in private hands and those that may be available to us are not suitable for burial," Ngcobo said.
“As things stand, we are hoping for a miracle. Our staff are stressed as they don’t have answers to people’s need for space. I get about 20 calls a day as the head, with those people who have my contact number calling me directly begging for space. There are no grave sites on the one hand, and the people are dying in numbers on the other. What do you do?” he asked.
While his department waited for the city to take a decision about the shortage of space going forward, he appealed to people to meet the government half-way by ensuring they adhered to the latest lockdown regulations, especially to wear a mask, sanitise, observe social distancing and crowded spaces, and stay indoors as much as possible.
Ngcobo added that the crematoriums were also heavily burdened since they were taking bodies from areas outside eThekwini, where crematoria were unavailable.
Andile Mayisela of KwaMashu, said he had lost a relative and had gone to the oThongathi Home Affairs offices where he had found long, snaking queues.
“First, we went to uMngeni Home Affairs. We stood in the queue until we got given reference numbers as applicants (for burial orders). Then they closed late on Monday, before we could all be serviced. We came back on Tuesday, but the offices were closed. We got wind that there had been a Covid-19 case at uMngeni hence the impromptu closure. Many of us moved to oThongathi, where the queues were so long we decided to go to Isipingo. I am at Isipingo now, and I am yet to get help,” he told The Mercury about 1pm yesterday.
Home Affairs spokesperson Siya Qoza confirmed there had been a Covid-19 case at the uMngeni Home Affairs office, which had led to a day's closure while staff were in isolation for further testing.
He suggested this may have led to additional influx at other service centres.
"Each time when there is a Covid 19 positive case at Home Affairs offices, that facility gets closed for decontamination, staff goes into self isolation or gets tested."