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Durban – If solutions are not found quickly, the eThekwini municipality could run out of burial space within five months, and more people would be pushed to cremate the remains of their loved ones.

The city says it is investing in crematoriums, as that seems the method most likely to be used in the future.

“As a result of the ever increasing demand for burial space, the city has been promoting alternative methods for the disposal of the mortal remains of loved ones,” municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said on Monday.

She said that the municipality was investigating ways to extend the existing cemeteries or alternatively reopen old facilities, like Ntuzuma Cemetery.

The development of new crematorium projects was also under way. The Mobeni crematorium would be extended with the addition of two new furnaces in the 2017\18 financial year.

Mthethwa said they were campaigning to encourage cremation. “We have seminars and conferences with major stakeholders to raise awareness and encourage alternative methods. The response from awareness campaigns has been improving, about 60% of families have leased or are reusing graves,” she said.

In a recent council document where the city was requesting an urgent supplier to replace a Mobeni Crematoria furnace, the city said burial space was a challenge and it was looking at alternatives to dispose of human remains.

In September last year it was reported that three of Durban’s largest cemeteries – eTafuleni in Inanda, Redhill, and Luganda cemetery near Pinetown – have already run out of burial space.

At the time, the city said Redhill cemetery was in the process of being shut, while Luganda cemetery was expected to close in October this year.

The report said about R20 million will be made available for the establishment of two new crematoriums in the north and south of the city, and closer to townships. These are expected to be up and running by this year.

“The extent of the problem is increasing. The current crisis tells us that there will be no graves by June 2017,” said the document.

It recommended funding of up to R3.5 million to replace the furnace at Mobeni crematorium which was not delivering the required level of performance and service. There had been many complaints from the public.

The city said the cemeteries department had undertaken research to study the extent of the shortage of land and as an alternative sustainable approach cremation was recommended as the most suitable and sustainable methods for the city.

“In view of the seriousness of this and the challenge to deliver to the service demands due to limited burial space, the department undertook several methods to assist with the disposal of human remains – one of which is crematorium. The number of people using cremation as an alternative disposal method will increase in the future” it said.

In 2013, The Mercury reported that property developers and cemeteries were competing for land and there was not enough for both.

Professor Sihawu Ngubane, the Head of African Languages at the University of KwaZulu-Natal said on Monday that the issue was a sensitive one and it depended on the individual’s belief.

“In African culture where someone is buried is a point of reference, we want to know where our loved ones are buried. We also believe in ancestors and that they connect us to God. In times of personal difficulty we go to their graves to pray. You can’t do that if someone has been cremated because their ashes are sometimes scattered,”he said.

Ngubane said he had been invited to conferences in the past discussing the issue and there are solutions that the municipality could pursue.

“There are farms that the municipality could buy and develop a cemetery there and the people could be buried where they originally come from. So people could be encouraged to stay close to the areas they originally came from,” he said.

Ngubane said it was important that people made it clear while they were still alive how they wanted to be buried.

The Mercury