Durban - IF the eThekwini Municipality did not stop its policy of reusing graves, the issue would have to go to court, a commission heard on Tuesday.
“If they do not change (the policy), then the commission (for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities) would have to come with an interdict to stop the city from reusing graves,” Thoko Xaluva-Mkhwanazi, the commission chairwoman, said.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s a pain you can’t even understand. If you recycle this week and the following week, we will be left with little choice but to take it to court,” she said on Tuesday.
Xaluva-Mkhwanazi was speaking at a hearing of the commission, sitting in Durban to investigate religious and cultural leaders and practices. The commission will report to Parliament with the aim of regulating the sectors.
Earlier in the day, eThekwini mayor, James Nxumalo, was quizzed about the recycling of graves, which could affect traditional religious ceremonies.
Saying that the city faced a severe shortage of grave sites, the mayor said the reality was that 48 cemeteries had closed.
There were still 17 other cemeteries open, but these were expected to be full in two years’ time.
It was no longer possible for people to bury their loved ones near their homes, Nxumalo said. The municipality has been investigating getting more land for graves.
He said the municipality was currently reusing old graves because if a grave was older than 10 years, the municipality was empowered to reuse it, but could only do that if the skeleton remained.
The remains were not removed from the grave, but were buried deeper, then covered in soil and another body was put on top.
If families did not want to do this, they had to pay a lease fee every 10 years.
Another difficulty facing the municipality was that there were cemeteries where bodies took a longer time to decompose.
Xaluva-Mkhwanazi said the commission understood the challenges faced by the municipality in finding new burial spaces, but reusing graves was problematic because it also violated the religious rights of people.
She explained that some people went to graves to “fetch the spirits of the deceased”, and if a number of people were buried in one grave, the wrong spirit could be taken from the grave to the home of the person. This could create problems in the home.
She pointed out that the renewal of the lease fee was not affordable for everyone. Poor people would be forced to choose between using the money for food or for the renewal of the lease.
“It is an unfair choice… and unconstitutional” and was trampling on people’s cultural rights. Reusing graves was being done in a culturally insensitive manner, she said.
“There needs to be an urgent new way of doing things.”
Cultural expert and traditional healer, Dr Velaphi (VVO) Mkhize, of the Umsamo Institute, volunteered to share his knowledge of African traditional spirituality and healing with the commission.
He warned that people were so desperate and hungry for money and success that they failed to reason. Asked to comment on the advertisements of traditional healers who promised “enlargement of body parts”, Mkhize said there was no need for a genuine healer to advertise.
“The ancestors gave me this gift so they must bring people to me,” he said.