/ 9 July 2020

Gauteng responds to grave concern

The fabled Viennese fondness for fine funerals and "a schoene Leich" - a beautiful corpse - is about to get a modern twist.
The Gauteng health department has responded to “confusion” about the preparation of mass graves in the province

The Gauteng health department has responded to “confusion” about the preparation of mass graves in the province. 

This is after Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku visited a grave site in Honingnestkrans, north of Tshwane, yesterday. At a briefing, the MEC reportedly said the province was preparing 1.5-million graves as Covid-19 cases continue to soar.

On Thursday, the department released a statement in an effort to “clarify” that Gauteng “does not have over a million already open dug graves”. The “over a million graves”, “refers to the collective capacity municipalities can take”.

The news of Gauteng’s grave site preparations raised alarm about the expected number of Covid-19-related deaths in the province. Gauteng has an estimated population of 15.5-million people. The province’s modelling forecasts that 1% of those infected will ultimately succumb to the virus. 

However, even if every person living in Gauteng were to contract Covid-19, a 1% fatality rate would account for 155 000 excess deaths, with far fewer than over a million additional graves being needed.  

“The GDoH [Gauteng department of health] is continuing to improve and increase both the infrastructure and human resource capacity of the health system to deal with the increasing pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement reads.

“We understand that the subject of death is an uncomfortable matter to engage in, however, ensuring that there is adequate burial space in the province, unfortunately, forms part of the reality government must contend with in the battle against Covid-19.”

By Wednesday, there were 3 602 reported Covid-19 deaths in South Africa, 478 of which were in Gauteng.

On the day before the March 27 lockdown began, the South African Cemeteries Association (Saca) released a statement recommending that municipalities identify extra land that can be used for burials in the event that deaths rise. It also suggested that municipalities procure incinerators so that more cremations can be performed.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian at the time, Saca chairperson Pepe Dass said he believes that the country will be able to cope with the potential death toll. “But what we were trying to put out in terms of a message as the South African Cemeteries Association is that municipalities must make the effort to be prepared.”