When death becomes costly

HARARE - Harare's cemeteries illustrate two immutable facts, death is universal and fast dwindling grave space is coming at a premium.

Many of Harare’s cemeteries have run out of space, and others are searching for ways to be as efficient as possible with dwindling stocks of open plots.

Prices obey the laws of supply and demand and they are rising.

As a result, more and more people are burying their loved ones at their rural homes or at up market cemeteries for those with fat pockets.

“You’ve got to remember the cemeteries in Harare date back to the 1900s, so they’ve been burying people for a long time at some of these places,” said a City of Harare employee at the Harare Division of Cemeteries.

“Especially in the city, there’s no land, it is even worse in light of the Aids pandemic and all these water-borne diseases.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) blames the rising death rate on a combination of HIV, food insecurity and poor health care.

Zimbabwe has one of the world’s biggest HIV and Aids infection rates, with the pandemic killing at least    124 000 people yearly, according to Smartwork, a US-funded Aids organisation.

About 16 percent of the population is living with HIV and Aids. In an impoverished country that is short on money to buy medical drugs, HIV, whose progression is hastened by an unreliable intake of anti-retroviral drugs and poor nutrition, is wreaking havoc.

The disease accounts for up to 70 percent of hospital admissions, according Smartwork, and as such, is the leading cause of death in the country.

In the past, people who died in urban areas were taken to their rural homes for burial.

But high transport costs are making it too costly for relatives and funeral companies to ferry corpses to rural areas for burial hence the clamour for urban burial space.

The cemetery crunch has led local government authorities to promote cremation with little success.

Despite these death figures, and the acute grave shortage, most black Zimbabweans maintain cremation is a taboo in their varying cultures.

“In our culture, the Karanga culture, death is not the end but the beginning of a journey to the ancestral world and to the creator. How does one possibly do this in a cremated state?” queried Kurai Katombwe, a registered traditional healer.

The deep-rooted opposition to cremation crosses the divide as Christians do not take well to the idea.

“Cremation is not a Christian doctrine. When Jesus died he was buried in a tomb. He was not cremated.

“It has a lot to do with respect of the human flesh and the fact that when one goes to hell they burn, so why subject them to double wrath?” said Elijah Kaseke, a pastor at a pentecostal church in Harare.

A visit to some of the graveyards shows little activity at the few crematoriums dotted around Harare.

The city’s cemeteries owe their existence to the Burial and Cremation Act, which allowed for the construction of commercial cemeteries outside the city limits.

What was then open space is now crowded with headstones.

A cemetery minder at Warren Hills Cemetery told the Daily News on Sunday that space is still available as the graveyard has been extended.

Booking for a reserve grave at this cemetery is $178, while a reopening fee for double reserves is $87.

The average family in Zimbabwe lives on about $500 per month and there is hardly enough to spare after the family expenses so many do not purchase advance graves.

For “elite” families whose members fought in the 1970s liberation war, a grave is the least of their headaches as they are usually buried at shrines specially reserved for them.

Not every Harare cemetery is under pressure though.

The privately-owned Glen Forest Cemetery, an upmarket graveyard located 14km out of Harare city centre, is one of those.

This upmarket cemetery has the capacity to hold up to 100 000 burial units, Walls of Remembrance, parking areas and reception areas.

However, the space and peace for the deceased at Glen Forest comes at a cost.Many of Harare’s cemeteries have run out of space, and others are searching for ways to be as efficient as possible with dwindling stocks of open plots.

Comments (2)

How can I acquire a grave at the cemetary to pay monthly any contact details for the office

L.Chikahadza - 2 September 2014

How can I reserve a burial place for myself at Glen Forest?

Molly Mazani Mudekunye - 16 October 2016

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