News24, 30 November 2002, Used mines to bury the dead?

Johannesburg - South Africa's largest city was looking at burying its dead in disused mineshafts as the death rate here increased due to factors including Aids, the Johannesburg-based Saturday Star reported.

Johannesburg was currently burying 20 000 people per year, with the figure expected to rise to 70 000 in 2010.

"With this in mind, Johannesburg City Parks is talking to the Chamber of Mines about taking over disused mineshafts to be used as catacombs - underground were common in Roman times," the paper said.

Local Health Department statistics showed that five years ago, there was a birth rate of 28 per 1 000 people and a death rate of 14 per 1 000.

This year the birth rate dropped to 19.5 per 1 000 while the death rate rose to 19 per 1 000.

"Johannesburg has a population of three million people who eventually will have to be accommodated in a final resting place," said Alan Buff of City Parks.

The city was also making provisions for the acquisition of an additional 1 000 hectares of new land for cemeteries and apart from mineshafts, were also investigating other alternative methods of burial.

These included freeze-drying by means of liquid nitrogen, mausoleums (above-ground cemeteries), mass graves and multiple burials.

Upright burial or the trench system was also being looked at, while cremation currently accounts for six percent of all internment methods, the report said.

Meanwhile, illegal cemeteries were sprouting up around squatter camps, which fringe the city's boundaries, the paper said.

"This is causing enormous social and environmental problems because the corpses are not being buried properly and with the first rains 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, used to make 'muti' (traditional medicine) by witchdoctors," the report said.

About five million people in South Africa are infected with either HIV or full-blown Aids, with 360 000 deaths due to the disease last year, according to UN statistics. - Sapa-AFP