It’s satanic to deny people access to ancestral graves‚ say traditional leaders

Grave: Image: oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo
Grave: Image: oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo
Image: 123RF/oneinchpunch

Traditional leaders have expressed concern over the denial of access to ancestral graves and a lack of burial space.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) said it was saddened by the government’s inability to tackle access to land for burial purposes in certain places.

Chief Mathibela Mokoena‚ the president of Contralesa‚ said it was “in fact satanic to not let people visit their family graves. And denying people access to that is harsh. Our people are poor. Life is hard enough.”

On the issue of the removal of graves for economic development‚ Mokoena said that as leaders they were all for development but only when it does not inconvenience the lives of people.

“It will come to a place where people will take the law into their own hands. This thing of developers just removing graves is wrong. There should be consultations with the families and they must consent to the removal of their loved ones‚” said Mokoena.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) has launched an inquiry into the matter.

Multiple complaints about the denial 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 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 one of the key focuses of the discussion. The municipality caused an uproar in 2011 when it announced that due to a lack of land‚ communities should consider using biodegradable coffins‚ recycled graves‚ use 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 a mortuary‚ something that is expensive for poor families‚” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

“The issue of land ownership and expropriation of land also has a big impact on this issue.”

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

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 as likely to get murdered as the South African population as a whole‚ according to the civil rights group AfriForum‚ which released its latest statistics on attacks and murders on farms in October last year.

As of 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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