South Africa’s Endumeni Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal is currently facing a cemetery crisis as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The significant loss of lives since 2020 has led to a shortage of burial space in the area, prompting concerns from Mayor Siyabonga Ndlovu.
Existing cemetery sites began rapidly filling up in 2021 and 2022, highlighting the urgent need for new cemeteries. In response, the municipality secured a new piece of land for this purpose. However, the crisis worsened in 2023, particularly in the second half of the year, further emphasizing the shortage of burial plots.
To address the pressing situation, the municipality reallocated funds and set aside R12.5 million to acquire new cemetery land. Some ongoing projects had to be temporarily paused to expedite the construction process and ensure that the community does not face the dire consequence of limited burial space.
The affected communities, including Dundee, Glencoe, Sthembile, and Sibongile townships, primarily rely on the Dundee and Glencoe cemeteries for burials. These cemeteries are now running out of space, necessitating decisive action from the municipality to avoid complications arising from full burial sites. If the situation worsens, community members may be forced to consider cremation or the reuse of family graves.
Residents, such as Innocent Mbele, have expressed their support for the municipality’s proactive approach in addressing the shortage of burial space. It is important to note that this issue is not unique to the Endumeni Municipality, as the eThekwini Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal is also grappling with a similar problem. In 2020, eThekwini Municipality implemented alternative burial methods, including cremation and the reuse of family graves, due to the scarcity of space for new cemeteries.
This cemetery crisis is not isolated to these municipalities alone, as numerous other municipalities across different provinces in South Africa are also facing similar challenges. The true extent of COVID-19-related deaths in the country remains unknown, further complicating the situation.
The current cemetery crisis in South Africa serves as a stark reminder of the need for timely and strategic planning to address unforeseen challenges. Municipal authorities must adapt and find sustainable solutions to ensure the dignified resting of deceased citizens as communities continue to grapple with the consequences of the pandemic.