It is promised that each of us will meet Malakul Mout or the Angel of Death. We may not know where, when, or how but we do know that death cannot outrun us.
In the first part of the series unpacking Muslim burial, we looked at a few basic rules and regulations. Now, we delve into the issue of burial space and the consequences of disregarding the rules.
With a growing population and increased demand for land, we have to question whether or not we may be running out of burial space. At the beginning of the year, the Vygekraal Cemetery Board announced that no new graves will be dug at the cemetery.
The only option for adult janaazah’s was to have graves re-opened, which have to be at least 15 years old.
The Western Cape Undertakers Forum Chairperson Ebrahim Soloman explains that space is indeed something that we need to consider. He noted that there are regulations that need to be kept in mind.
“Before we never used to reopen a hole, but now we are forced to open the hole of a family member because we are running out of burial space and there’s no space for new cemeteries. There were lots of challenges relating to the agreement, because they said a cemetery needs to be built 500m away from habitual space. That’s half a kilometre around the cemetery where there mustn’t be houses.”
“If we say “there’s a field opposite my house that will make a nice cemetery , you cannot just use that space. Five-hundred meters is a big space that you need to have clear before you can have the area zoned as a cemetery.”
At the time, CoCT’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health Councilor Zahid Badroedien said the lack of sufficient cemetery space is an issue throughout the country.
The City of Cape Town made an agreement with the Muslim Judicial Council in 2015, to accommodate the Muslim community. It follows an application for an environmental impact assessment test lodged in 2013 and which was issued in 2015.
“There is no more space. The City made a commitment to making space in the City cemeteries. For example, the one in Klip Road that we frequently use. There’s one in Delft that they built, the one in Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein.”
“I have to reiterate that there is no more space at the private cemeteries, and we need to make use of the City cemeteries.”
The City’s Head of cemetery management Susan Brice said the City is committed to providing a dignified burial to all citizens.
“The City acknowledges and respects the diverse religions and cultures it serves, while catering for its needs for a dignified burial or cremation. In order to achieve this, the City has also implemented a destitute policy which provides funds for basic funeral services where people where people don’t have the resources.
Bryce said the demand for land for burial is however not high on the priority list.
“The City has 40 cemeteries, 17 of which are being actively used. The balance is dormant or historic and only get used when families hope to reopen a family grave.”
“The demand for land for the living far outweighs the demand for burial space, so naturally, funding for cemeteries is not high on the priority list. Some cultures and religions do not condone cremation. Sixty- percent of Cape Town’s population is still in need of a burial space, which equates to 1 200 burials per month.”
She maintained that the City is committed to cater to all groups.
“In the past 10 years the City has prioritized funding for cemetery extensions and new cemetery developments. We have been fortunate in attaining grant funding from National Government as a contribution.”
Bryce pointed out that the majority of the private cemeteries are full.
“There are quite a few private cemeteries, some of which are linked to churches, synagogues and mosques. A few are owned by Muslim burial societies such as the Vygieskraal Burial Society and Brody Road in Wynberg and Mowbray Cemetery in Browning road, Observatory and Pooke Road in Athlone.”
Soloman suggested that an option, that will be more costly, is to dig deeper holes to bury several deceased.
“At the City cemeteries where the non-Muslims bury, they have certain graves. Now, you get a full monumental grave which is dug very deep. That is also there for you to put up a monumental stone, which we as muskies don’t go in to.”
“The grave is dug very deep so after a couple of months if a family member dies, they can then bury above that. So, you can bury four or five people in the same hole, which saves space. But obviously for them to dig a hole that deep; the cost goes up, so the hole becomes quite expensive.”
“As Muslims, we bury at a normal level called a berm hole -which is supposed to be six-foot six deep- and we’ve got to wait 15 years before we can reopen that hole. So, if someone passes on before the 15 years and they (insisted) they want to be buried in the same cemetery, then (grave-diggers) have to open up a new hole- which could’ve been one if it was dug deep enough. “
The water table (also called Groundwater Table) is the upper level of an underground surface in which the soil or rocks are permanently saturated with water. The water table separates the groundwater zone that lies below it from the sediment that lies above it.
Soloman noted that Cape Town’s high water table is something that needs to be taken into consideration.
“When a hole is dug it needs to be at a certain depth, the regulations now state 1.5m deep. Most of our cemeteries don’t even go down that deep because of the water table. Irrespective of the drought we’ve had over the past couple of years, Cape Town’s water table is quite high.”
“The water table needs to be tested to see how the water rises. You wouldn’t want, when winter sets in, that the body is going to start floating. You can’t build a cemetery in a low lying area.”
The water table fluctuates both with the seasons and from year to year because it is affected by climatic variations and the amount of precipitation used by vegetation. It also is affected by withdrawing excessive amounts of water from wells or by recharging them artificially.
Solomon added that the water also needs to be free of contamination.
“Many things came out at the stakeholders meeting that we had. An environmental expert there, spoke about how we- with the water shortage- we had boreholes put in where the water is sucked from out of the ground. You don’t want that water to be contaminated. There might be diseases flowing in the water and you wash your clothing with it etc. Some people say “my water is crystal clear” and they drink the water just like that without purifying it.”
Bryce meanwhile added that the City works regularly with the Muslim Judicial Council, who presents the needs of the community to them.
“The City has engaged with the Muslim Judicial Council and signed a service level agreement in 2015, which set out the parameters for which the City can make provision for religious requirements. As part of the planning of a new cemetery, we receive information from the MJC and the number of mosques in the area to consider what amount of space may be needed for Muslim burials. The City is also committed to providing Muslim allotments in most of our new City Cemeteries.”
The Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz, recently expressed concern about the increase in gang-related deaths and violent crime in the province, particularly in Cape Town.
Fritz revealed on Tuesday, that in June 2018 there were 344 recorded murders. This year, there were 104 more murders recorded for the month of June, indicating a 23.2% increase.
In the third part of the burial series we will be unpacking the conditions of state mortuaries and whether they are coping with the added workload.