Durban - What started out as a social media joke by a public relations student could turn into a lucrative career if the demand for professional mourners overseas is anything to go by.
Dumisane Ngobene, 21, placed an ad on Facebook recently offering to “fake-cry” or even “cry and roll on the ground” at funerals – for a fee.
His post, along with a generic picture of people mourning at a funeral, read: “Do you want to boost your funeral? We hire out professional mourners to cry at the funeral. The prices are: normal crying at R200 per mourner, crying and rolling on the ground at R300 per mourner, crying and insulting at R400 a mourner, or crying and threatening to jump into the grave at R500 per mourner.”
The ad secured more than 8 000 shares and 3 000 likes within hours. Ngobene claims many people sent him messages on Facebook to ask about the service.
“One potential client said he wanted me to attend a funeral within the next few days. I realised people were actually interested in such a service, so I decided I am going to pursue this as a business,” he said.
Ngobene said that after posting the ad two weeks ago he found that others were changing the details and reposting it as their own.
He said people contacted him asking if they could join his business, including Tobanie Dhlomo from Kokstad – who this week also advertised the service on Facebook.
“I told him it would be difficult because he lives in KwaZulu-Natal and I’m in Pretoria”.
Ngobene, together with five of his friends, have now started a service called PineDeep Professional Mourners.
“Our first funeral in Pretoria West was a success last Saturday. Nobody knew that we were mourners. I have also started a website for the service which I hope will be up and running by next month.
“As much as people think this is funny, believe it or not, there is a market for it in South Africa and I am going to fill this gap,” he said .
Asked if it was disrespectful, Ngobene said no.
“Funerals are not as sacred as they used to be. Nowadays, people need these services. I discovered that mourning services were a real thing in London and other parts of the world. This got me thinking.
“Mourning, especially in African tradition, is an important part of funerals. So I decided to advertise to see if there was a market for it,” he said.
Local funeral services such as Doves and Avbob said they were yet to receive requests for professional mourners but it was not unheard of.
In Britain, for £45 (R820) an hour, fake mourners can be hired to cry at a funeral service to swell numbers.
The website of a company called Rent A Mourner says it specialises in providing a supply of “professional, discreet people to attend funerals and wakes… because empty seats are so unsightly”.
In most parts of Asia, professional mourning is common.
According to a recent Daily Mail report, Chinese families hire out-of-work actors to cry at funerals when relatives are too busy to attend.
For about £300 (R5 500), seven professionals will wail loudly, as expected of family mourners at a traditional Chinese ritual, and encourage others to join in because an absence of tears indicates the deceased was not loved, which disgraces the family.