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South Africa Needs More Graveyards to Bury AIDS Dead

May 21, 2004

A skyrocketing death rate has caused a dearth of burial space in the world's most AIDS-afflicted nation, South African cemetery officials said. In Durban, the largest city in the worst-affected province of KwaZulu-Natal, the city's cemetery department this week said the amount of land it needs each year has doubled in the last decade to more than 12 hectares, a graveyard boom "caused by the scourge of HIV/AIDS in our society."

Because AIDS typically takes around 10 years to kill a healthy 25-year-old, the large upswing in HIV infections from the early 1990s is beginning to take its toll. "About five years ago we were burying around eight bodies on a Saturday. Now we are burying anything between 45 and 50," said Thembinkosi Ngcobo, eThekwini's head of cemeteries. "About 80 percent of those 45 people will be young, between 18 and 30, and most of the time it will be because of 'natural causes,'" added Ngcobo, inferring that the stigma attached to AIDS causes many people to never admit they are HIV-infected.

Due to the shortage of grave space, antipathy toward cremation among black South Africans, who traditionally associate it with the fires of hell, is beginning to ease. Still, funeral directors say that less than 1 percent of blacks in many areas are cremated.

Pretoria officials said all of the capital's existing graveyards would be full by 2009, while Cape Town officials said the 33 hectares currently available will run out in two years. The Johannesburg council is developing "super cemeteries" that will dwarf Soweto's 172-hectare Avalon graveyard, where throngs of mourners cause huge traffic backups every weekend.

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Excerpted from:
05.19.04; Ben Harding

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