August 3, 2005

AIDS, urbanisation overcrowd S.African graveyards

By Peter Apps

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - AIDS and a growing urban
population are forcing South African officials to find new
cemeteries and encourage families to bury several members in
the same grave, Johannesburg city authorities said Wednesday.

Johannesburg's Alexandra township has no spare grave spaces
while Soweto's Avalon cemetery sees more than 200 burials each
weekend, City Parks spokeswoman Jenny Moodley said.

"There's a lot of pressure on the current infrastructure,"
she said. "A lot of people are saying we should cremate because
in the future we don't want to have to pay large amounts in tax
for the upkeep of cemetery spaces."

With thousands flocking to cities from impoverished rural
areas of South Africa and its neighbors in search of work and
more than 6.5 million of the country's 47 million people
infected with HIV, demand would grow further, she said.

Every weekend, convoys of buses carrying mourners bring
South African townships to a standstill as families bury their
dead. Johannesburg City Parks, responsible for municipal
graveyards, expects a 5 to 10 percent increase in deaths each

"We like to think it's mainly down to urbanisation," she
said, adding the municipality did not have firm data on causes
of death.

African traditional beliefs put many off cremation, she
said, so the city was also encouraging families to put several
members in the same grave -- described as the "second burial"
option -- to save space and pack as many corpses as possible
into overcrowded sites.

"For each hectare, we can only do 2,000 primary burials,"
said Moodley. "If residents were willing to have second burials
then we'd have an additional 1.5 million burial spaces across
the city."

The opening of two large cemeteries on the outskirts of
Johannesburg -- with an official population of around 4 million
although some say it could be twice that size -- would almost
double the city's burial capacity, she said, creating almost
half a million new grave plots.

"That should be enough to last us another 30 to 40 years."