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International News

South Africa: Unrelenting Tide of AIDS Erodes Burial Traditions

January 21, 2003

In South Africa, AIDS is filling some city cemeteries faster than new ones can be added. On weekends, funeral processions of cars, pickup trucks and standing-room-only chartered buses snarl traffic for miles around major graveyards. Burial insurance policies have become more exclusive, and "burial clubs," which pool money for funerals, are going bankrupt.

"The pandemic is changing the way we bury the dead," said Alan Buff, who oversees Johannesburg's cemeteries. "Five years ago, Johannesburg was accommodating 15,000 burials every year. Now we've got 20,000, and Johannesburg could expect to have 70,000 burials a year by 2010, at the height of the epidemic."

Frikke Booysen, a sociology professor at the University of the Free State in the city of Bloemfontein, said some families would rather take food from their own mouths than skimp on funerals for loved ones. "Some people have started buying cheaper coffins -- even cardboard boxes," he said. "But tradition and culture demand that people avoid that. Cremation would be cheaper, but most African cultures do not believe in that either. They believe that a person should be buried in a coffin, in the ground. And normally, families around here will slaughter an ox -- so they have to buy that too if they don't already have their own animal."

Officials in Pietermaritzburg, in the KwaZulu-Natal province, say three of their public graveyards will run out of space this year. Johannesburg is purchasing land for four new sites to prepare for the closing of one of South Africa's largest graveyards, Avalon Cemetery, in three years. More than 200 bodies are buried there each week.

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To save land, Buff said his office is looking into a Swedish alternative to cremation. "We would use a deep-freeze system in which the corpse is inoculated with liquid nitrogen and then reduced by sonic waves," he explained. "It's the opposite of cremation -- instead of burning, you freeze and shatter the body." Buff is also talking to the national Department of Mines about building a system of crypts and catacombs in disused shafts beneath Johannesburg.

Back to other CDC news for January 21, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times
01.12.03; Solomon Moore



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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