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CRL commission to investigate access to graves

Image: 123RF/oneinchpunch

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) has launched an inquiry into access to burial land and ancestral graves.

Multiple complaints about the denial of right of access to graves‚ especially on farms and private property‚ lack of municipal land for burial and the violation of people’s beliefs have prompted the investigation‚ commissioner Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday. Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said that complainants strongly argued that “for them‚ cemeteries are more than just a burial places. Consequently‚ the deceased person’s bones and sanctified burial place becomes very important‚ and therefore should not be disturbed by anyone.”

The eThekwini municipality was a key focus of the discussion.

It caused an uproar in 2011 when it announced that due to a lack of land‚ communities should consider using biodegradable coffins‚ recycled graves and standardised tombstones or cremate their loved ones‚ regardless of their beliefs.

Though the municipality says it is faced with a scarcity of burial space‚ the commission says that the lack of burial land is not the community’s problem but the government’s.

“We cannot have a municipality that consistently hides behind lack of land. We have been engaging them for the past seven years and even today they have not done anything. The lack of burial land even leads to some people being kept for a long time in mortuary. Something that is expensive for poor families.

“The issue of land ownership and expropriation of land also has a big impact on this issue‚” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

The disregard of the religious and cultural rights of most communities insofar as the issue of graves is concerned‚ is a violation of cultural constitutional rights‚ the commission submitted.

It’s the commission’s view that the most affected are people from poor communities “as most rich people can afford buying graves in private cemeteries”.

In an effort to establish servitude agreements between the community and farm owners‚ the commission said it was going to consult and negotiate with several farmers’ unions across the country.

“There are many farm murders happening in the country today and some farmers argue that they are scared for their safety to allow strangers on their farms. We will establish a framework that will ensure the safety of farm owners and safe access for the people‚” she said.

Commercial farmers are 4.5 times more likely to get murdered than the South African population as a whole. This is according to the civil rights group AfriForum‚ which released its latest statistics on attacks and murders on farms in October last year.

As from next week‚ the commission will start consultations across the country and draw up a report with recommendations by the end of July.

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