Does SA Have Sufficient Burial Capacity?

Article by Lindiwe Karosa

South Africans were taken in confidence last night as Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize hosted a briefing in which the Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Covid-19 gave an informative presentation on SA’s current and future landscapes. Stage 7 of the country’s responses to the pandemic covers bereavement and the aftermath – a stage that many of us dread, but are forced to embrace the inevitable. With South Africa’s lack of land for burial sites, will the country be able to handle the expected high numbers of burials?

Expanding Burial Capacity

New York and Italy have each recorded daily death tolls of close to 1 000 people. If South Africa’s fatalities begin to display this trajectory, will burial sites be able to accommodate these funerals?

In October 2019, the City of Johannesburg was reported to have filled 29 of its 34 cemeteries to capacity. This is concerning considering that Gauteng (Johannesburg), Western Cape (Cape Town) and Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban) have been labeled as possible future hotspots for the virus.

The Funeral Industry Reformed Association (Fira) has recommended to the government that paupers rather be cremated and not buried to preserve the availability of land. The SA Cemeteries Association (Saca) however, has highlighted the shortage of cremators and their equipment especially considering that cremation is recommended for corpses infected by the virus.

Regulations on Funerals

As it stands, funeral regulations state that no more than 50 people are allowed at the ceremonies, services should be short and the small crowd should disperse immediately thereafter. However, movement regulations have been relaxed enabling mourners to travel inter-provincially to bury their loved ones. This sounds like a fair arrangement now as our death tolls are seemingly low, but will these regulations be practical if close to 1 000 funerals need to proceed?

Saca has recommended that weekday bookings be prioritised to avoid large numbers flooding cemeteries on the generally-preferred Saturday. It also stated that funerals should be limited to 30 minutes to lessen traffic, if any.

Managing Psychological & Social Impacts

Discussions have taken place to address the psychological impact that a nationwide lockdown could impose on individuals. Social media and watching the news on loop could bring about fear and stress in communities. But the impact doesn’t end there, what might happen to those who find themselves having lost a loved one to this virus?

During a time of grief, we often rely on being around friends and family for support, but the conditions of the nationwide lockdown may prohibit us from having access to this. Another thought is perhaps the person who’s succumbed to this virus was the breadwinner in a household – the opportunities of a mental breakdown may introduce themselves during such times.

The need to look for new and adaptive ways to mourn is rising. Grieving is a very unique process to every individual therefore it is important for each person to find a way to cope under these circumstances.

Some helplines in South Africa:

  • ●  The South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 0112344837 or 0800 205026
  • ●  Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline on 0800708090
  • ●  Cipla 24 Hour Mental Health Helpline on 0800456789, WhatsApp 0768822775

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