Families asked to share burial plots amid cemetery shortages - or plant a tree

A flower on top of a grave.
A flower on top of a grave.
Image: 123RF/oneinchpunch

Residents of the City of Johannesburg are being urged to consider alternative burial options‚ including shared family graves and cremations.

Although the city has adequate burial space for at least the next 50 to 70 years‚ without considering plans to develop more cemeteries‚ it is looking at more sustainable and even environmentally friendly alternatives.

The Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development in the City of Joburg‚ Councillor Nonhlanhla Sifumba‚ said: “It is our responsibility‚ as the current leaders‚ to ensure that future generations do not inherit the burden of managing cemeteries that have reached full capacity‚ without educating our residents on alternative burial options”.

Of the 32 cemeteries across Joburg‚ only four have not yet reached full capacity. Westpark‚ Olifantsvlei‚ Diepsloot and Waterval cemeteries are still able to house over one million future graves.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo‚ the custodians of the City of Joburg’s cemeteries and designated public open spaces‚ is encouraging residents to consider utilizing the same gravesite for the entire family.

This has the potential to increase burial space significantly and it will reduce the need for more cemeteries‚ like the recently opened Olifantsvlei Cemetery‚ it said.

Cremations‚ which are considered by some families as a viable alternative to a traditional burial‚ have seen a slight year-on-year increase. The average number of cremations at the Braamfontein and Lenasia crematoria is at around 315 per month.

New memorial walls are currently being erected at Westpark Cemetery‚ where a family can erect a plaque in memory of a loved one who has been cremated.

Johannesburg City Parks said it remains mindful that there are religious and traditional constraints regarding cremations‚ which is why it is prioritizing increasing awareness on the option for "reopenings" to bury loved ones in the same grave as a family member.

"This will effectively ensure that all 32 cemeteries are active and are fully utilized‚" it said.

Grave reopenings are already taking place‚ especially in Alexandra and at the Avalon Cemetery‚ since these cemeteries have reached full capacity for new burials.

"There is also the option of ‘grave reduction’ which is reburying the remains of a long lost family member in a smaller urn‚ and then utilising the same grave‚ for the family to reuse. This burial site then becomes a family gravesite that can be used for generations‚” said Sifumba.

The city maintains that being buried in the same grave is more affordable‚ has huge cost-savings for ratepayers‚ is environmentally friendly and affords families a central point to pay tribute and conduct religious ceremonies if needed.

Another option‚ which is rarely utilized‚ is making use of mausoleums at Westpark Cemetery. These sites are privately managed and afford families the option to consider above-ground burials in a free-standing tomb‚ where a number of caskets can be accommodated.

Opting to have a tree planted on the gravesite or a tree planted in the cemetery as more symbolic options are also some of the options that Joburg City Parks and Zoo is engaging residents with.

The MMC commented‚ “For some people it is comforting to know that the memory of their loved one lives on‚ in the growth of the tree‚ instead of in a dormant grave.”

The City of Joburg has a population of close to five million and growing. The Gauteng provincial life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 2001‚ as determined by Statistics South Africa in their 2017 mid-year population estimates.

Men are now expected to live an average of 64‚1 years and women 69‚8 years. These statistics are supported by the decrease in the burial rate in Joburg which peaked at 27 000 per annum in the early 2000s to currently averaging at 17 000 per annum.

One should‚ however‚ also take into consideration that Joburg has a large transitional workforce from areas outside the city and who prefer to be interned in their home city.

"Residents and families are called on to explore alternative burial options without infringing on customs and traditions and to further respect the sanctity of cemeteries‚" said Joburg Parks and Zoo.

The entity has been in the news recently for erratic maintenance at graveyards. Entertainer Harry Sideropoulos took it to task in a Facebook post earlier this month‚ describing what he saw at Westpark cemetery.

". . . Those visiting were struggling to find the graves as many graves had been consumed by the grass that was cut months back and never removed. Tombstones had fallen and had been vandalised. I literally had one foot in the grave‚ there were holes in the ground everywhere. Trees had fallen on tombstones and never removed. . . Rubbish aplenty‚" he wrote.

The city advised residents they may report vandalism and service shortfalls at graveyards to the call centre on tel 011 375 5555.

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