No place to bury the dead

Municipalities debate alternatives to cemeteries

Graves in public cemetries are often used for multiple burials – because of economical and ecological regulations
Cemeteries and burial practices are matters many people shy away from discussing, although they continue to take centre stage in the management of municipal land. 
The South African Local Government Association (Salga) convened a summit on cemeteries last month to discuss the challenges faced by urban municipalities in housing the deceased.


The Local Government Summit on Cemeteries and the Observance of Culture and Heritage in Urban Spaces in South Africa was held in Ekurhuleni to coincide with heritage month. 

"Over 100 people ranging from municipal councillors and officials, researchers, and burial and funeral equipment suppliers were among the delegates. The summit shared ideas on how best municipalities could deal with the issue of shortage of land for burial practices," a media statement issued by Salga said.

Opening the summit, Salga national executive committee member and chairperson of the community development working group, Flora Maboa-Boltman said “dealing with the issue of cemeteries necessitates us to focus on critical areas of land scarcity, land suitability, burial practices and cultural and religious significance of cemeteries”. 
Rapid urbanisation due to people migrating to cities for better opportunities contributes to this problem. Other challenges result from people trying to avoid municipal tariffs associated with burial of a family member, deaths of undocumented migrant workers, as well as high travel costs to where cemeteries are located.

Cllr Maboa-Boltman cautioned that some municipalities are faced with the challenge of informal and illegal burials and that this problem should not be allowed to escalate any further saying.

“Ignoring legislation has drastic consequences, particularly on sustainable development as water sources get contaminated, among other dire consequences,” Cllr Maboa-Boltman said. 

The summit also shared information on how recycling, the construction of mausoleums and alkaline hydrolysis (alkaline hydrolysis is a process for the disposal of human remains, which its creator states is more ecologically favourable than cremation. The process is being marketed worldwide as an alternative to the traditional options of burial or cremation), as alternatives to conventional burial, can assist municipalities and individuals in managing and preserving land while contributing to the wellness of the planet. 

The summit's three break-away sessions focused on the following topics:
• Land availability, cost effective and environmentally friendly burials and informal and illegal burials;
• Mechanisms for political and community buy-in and 
• Incorporating new alternatives.
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