Rest in peace

SALGA looks at SA cemeteries

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Earlier this month, SALGA congratulated the Cemeteries Association of South Africa and the eThekwini municipality for furthering the resolutions of the SALGA Cemeteries Summit held in 2012.

Indeed, print and radio media has been abuzz with discussions around South Africa’s developmental choices around cemeteries. This partly has to do with the emotive nature of the subject of disposal of human remains as well as the realisation that the choices that are made now will impact on generations to come. Some of the issues emerging from the 2013 Cemeteries Conference included a number of burning questions.

Is the shortage of cemetery space imminent?

A study done by SALGA and its partners (CRL Rights Commission, University of South Africa, and CSIR) in 2012 indicated that cities are in need of suitable land for cemeteries. Most metropolitan municipalities have less that 50% of cemeteries that still have capacity for more burials.

Can any land be allocated for the use of cemeteries?

Apart from high demand for in-ground burial over cremation which causes high demand for cemeteries space, cemeteries should also be located on unsuitable landscapes. Some previously allocated land for cemeteries has had to be rezoned when government instituted laws that prevented cemeteries on unsuitable soil and on slopes with steep gradients landscapes that risk underground water contamination and other hazards.

What is constraining municipalities from allocating sufficient land for cemeteries?

Municipalities can’t simply allocate more land for cemeteries even though more than 80% of cities indicated that land for cemeteries is in short supply. Large tracts of land which are suited for cemeteries are currently prioritised for other developmental needs such as housing. The other reason attributed to this is that most the suitable land is privately owned and it usually gets expensive to acquire using market instruments.

What can communities do?

The process of developing a local government strategy for cemeteries is underway led by SALGA and the Cemeteries Conference is part of raising awareness and part of the consultation process. Dialogue must occur at local council level and find expression in spatial frameworks. Non-adherence to standards of burials relating to the depth of the grave, among others, are issues that each community needs to tackle.

What happens now, post the conference?

The CRL Rights Commission argued for the need to acquire more land for traditional burial to prevent violation of individuals’ constitutional right to observe cultural practices and rituals while most municipalities argued that the country has a constitutional prerogative to create an environment that is sustainable which the current rate of traditional burials fails to provide for.

Moving forward, SALGA, in its role as the representative body of municipalities, needs to mediate between these different interests and through the active participation of civil society as part of a consulted national strategy. Each one of us needs to begin to ask difficult questions around the impact we make to future generations, existing businesses, and take into account emerging trends globally on the issue.

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