Independent On-Line, 29 November 2002, Squatters cannot afford to bury dead

Illegal cemeteries sprouting up around informal settlements as a result of poverty are causing a major problem for the City of Johannesburg.

According to Dino Blynefeldt, social development project manager for Region 11 (Ennerdale/Orange Farm), people who cannot afford to pay for funerals - the cheapest of which is R3 900 - are burying their dead on empty land.

This is causing enormous social and environmental problems because the corpses are not being buried properly and with the first rains the bodies are being exposed to children and dogs.

Another problem with the shallow graves is that the bodies are vulnerable - they are easily dug up for body parts to be chopped up and used for muti.

Region 11, with the Spoornet Khotso Community Project, has now started a community coffin-making project in Ennerdale.

Fifteen unemployed people are currently being trained in basic woodwork and the production of coffins is expected to start in February.

According to Blynefeldt, basic coffins cost R250 to make, which includes a small profit, but are being sold by undertakers for about R1 700. Caskets which cost R500 to make are being sold for up to R6 500.

"A huge profit is being made, This is unacceptable because there are many poor people dying here each day whose families simply cannot afford this kind of money."

He estimates that in the area 80 percent of the people are unemployed while the Aids infection rate is 38 percent.

Three tragic cases highlighted the problem in Orange Farm this week when, Tikkun, a Jewish outreach organisation, was asked to find money to bury three impoverished Aids victims.

The case of Emily Mabolwane, who lives in a shack, is typical. Her younger daughter died of Aids earlier this year, leaving an infected child.

Her second daughter died this week, leaving five-year old twins and a three-year-old, all of them infected with HIV. Mabolwane has no money for food, let alone a funeral and medical expenses for the children and especially the twins, who are already ill.

Mabolwane is a
Lesotho citizen so she has no hope of getting financial assistance from the South African government.

The other two victims buried this week were chased out of their homes by their families because of their illnesses. When they died the families did not have the money for the burials. MR Funeral Parlour has come to the rescue of these impoverished families by agreeing to arrange the three services for R400 each as opposed to R3 900 usually charged for one.