Call for families to consider alternatives as grave problem looms

The SA Cemeteries Association this week called for municipalities to urgently plan for the potential demand in response to the anticipated mortality rate.

The number of Covid-19-related burials in Johannesburg went from three in April to 96 in June, but local government insists the city can accommodate the expected demand for burial space.

Some organisations have called for people to start considering alternatives, such as cremation, and raised concerns that an expected spike in demand for graves required adequate planning by government. Spokesperson for the Jewish Board of Deputies Cherisse Seifert said the Jewish community was concerned.

“Among the Jewish community, it is customary for burial to take place as soon as possible after death. Our laws also preclude cremation,” she said.

According to Saul Tomson, chief executive of the Chevra Kadisha (the organisation overseeing Jewish burials), there was currently sufficient space at the Westpark Cemetery. Johannesburg City Parks spokesperson Mlimandlela Ndamase said on Saturday last week 39 Covid-19-related burials took place at the Westpark Cemetery.

Also read: Gauteng prepares mass graves as Covid-19 infections increase

The disease had led to 124 burials in the city since April and 24 cremations. But according to Ndamase, there was no foreseeable crisis. Johannesburg could provide burial space for 1.4 million people. The Democratic Alliance warned there was more to burial planning than just land availability.

“When it comes to issues of mass burials as the number of fatalities increase, provincial health departments need to work hand-in-hand with local governments,” said Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube.

Specific protocols have to be put in place to govern how remains are dealt with and how the burial process takes place. “This is an integral part of the management of the pandemic,” she said. “Provinces need to take these processes seriously. The issue is … also about the containment of the virus.”

The SA Cemeteries Association this week called for municipalities to urgently plan for the potential demand in response to the anticipated mortality rate. According to the association, population growth from around 22 million in 1970 to approximately 59 million in 2020, anticipated to grow to 75 million in 2050, was placing huge pressure on local government to sustain burial services.

“This means approximately 60 million graves in the next 80 years,” the organisation said in a statement.

Also read: Gauteng records highest Covid-19 death toll three days running

A grave took approximately 2.64m2 so the land requirement would amount to 15 840 hectares – an area larger than Pietermaritzburg.

The association called on government to amend legislation to include alternatives, such as alkaline hydrolysis and organic reduction, as methods of managing human remains. According to Ndamase, Johannesburg alone had a burial capacity for 1.384 million bodies.

The City of Joburg had two crematoria with seven cremators capable of handling five cremations each day. There was also a Hindu crematorium.


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