Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
How often would a person think of his or her own death, let alone the funeral? For most Zimbabweans, the whole idea is scary. For, as one writer puts it, how does one imagine a time when they will no longer imagine?
However, events of the past week had people taking time to reflect on such an occurrence.
The Harare Municipality announced that the popular Warren Hills Cemetery was full and had been closed.
Confirming a full council resolution passed last week, housing and community service acting director Major (Rtd) Mathew Marara, said they were in the process of identifying land for new cemeteries in the eastern, southern and northern areas of the capital.
Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said the development means the City has to develop new graves uphill of Warren Park Cemetery.
“We are working with a partner, Nyaradzo Funeral Services, on this project. But in the meantime it means burials have to be done at Granville, Greendale and Tafara Cemeteries, that is, when one requires council burial space,” he said.
He confirmed that the City was actively identifying new burial sites in the northern, eastern, southern and western parts of the city to make it easy for residents to bury their dearly departed without having to crisscross the central business district.
The announcement has triggered a serious debate on alternative disposal of the dead.
If not Warren Hills, then where, one wonders. Rural areas, Granville (kuMbudzi), Mabvuku, Greendale or the “uptown” Glen Forest Cemetery?
There is a general belief that people need to explore other sustainable methods of burying the dead.
“The issue of cremation is an option, though controversial, as it is in conflict with our culture. However, we also need to encourage those with rural homes where we still have decent to take their deceased there,” a Harare-based urban planner said recently.
Cremation is the use of high-temperature burning, vaporisation and oxidation to reduce dead animal or human bodies to basic chemical compounds, such as gases and mineral fragments retaining the appearance of dry bone.
Popular radio and television personality Amai Rebecca Chisamba has weighed in, encouraging Zimbabweans to dump traditional ways and move with the times.
“We claim to have transformed our way of living but we are still stuck with the past insisting on burying the dead in graves. I suggest cremation as an alternative.
“We should know that the population is growing and the burial places, even the anthills in the rural areas, have been exhausted and there is nothing wrong with cremation,” she said.
Amai Chisamba urged society to learn and understand the cremation concept.
“There is an option of using a single grave for different family members because we cannot be stuck in the past,” she said.
Amai Chisamba’s argument rests on what are known as mausoleum vault burials, which are external, above ground free standing buildings with spaces or burial chambers for coffins.
Sometimes mausoleums are referred to as tombs.
However, University of Zimbabwe lecturer and social commentator Professor Claude Mararike dismissed cremation as an abomination.
“It is the duty of the City Fathers to provide alternative burial space for the dead. Cremation is a matter of choice and people cannot be forced to burn their relatives.
“In fact, people have a moral right to choose how they would bury the dead according to their beliefs because we are not yet at the stage where we cremate the dead,” he said.
Prof Mararike said cremation was a curse to both the living and the dead person.
Town planner and Institute of Town Planners’ president Mr Percy Toriro bemoaned the closure of Warren Hills Cemetery.
“Warren Hills was the most preferred burial space for most people in Harare because the alternatives have challenges. The soils at Granville are inappropriate and it is not uncommon for graves to collapse.
“Private cemeteries such as Glen Forest are not affordable to the majority. Identifying appropriate land for a cemetery is one important task for Harare today,” he said.
Mr Toriro said there was also a number of factors to consider for the alternative burial sites.
Firstly, Mr Toriro said, the soils have to be suitable for burial without contaminating ground water.
“Secondly, the city has grown considerably so the land size has to be large enough to serve for many years to come, while, the site has to be within reasonable distance to cut down on transport costs for the majority with less means,” he said.
Mr Toriro said Zimbabweans should also consider alternative ways of burying the dead to manage costs of burial and land uptake.
“Cremation must be considered as it saves on land used for burial. We may also consider building family vaults where all members can be buried in a vertical structure.
“Obviously there are cultural and other barriers. But if we want to be realistic and futuristic, let’s begin to engage society in a debate about the issue. There are many like me who would not want to occupy a lot of space in death.
“I want to lead a good life full of all conveniences while still productive, but when death comes, one only needs small spaces to rest in peace,” he said.
According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, burial of the dead is the act of placing the corpse of a dead person in a tomb constructed for that purpose or in a grave dug into the earth.
In cultures such as Mesopotamia, tombs and graves were cut into the ground in the expectation that the soul of the individual so buried would more easily reach the afterlife which was thought to exist underground.
Graves in the cultures of the ancient world were usually marked by a stone bearing the person’s likeness and name or by an elaborate tomb (such as the pyramids of Egypt or the tholos tombs of Greece) or megalithic stone dolmens, passage graves, and cairns such as those found in Scotland and Ireland.
Whatever kind of grave or tomb was constructed, however, the importance of the proper burial of the dead was emphasised by every ancient culture and the rites accompanying burial were among the most elaborate and significant in many ancient cultures.
Burial of the dead in the ground has been traced back over 100,000 years of civilisation as evidenced by the Grave of Qafzeh in Israel, a group tomb of 15 people buried in a cave along with their tools and other ritual artifacts.
The earliest grave uncovered thus far in Europe is that of the “Red Lady of Wales” which is 29 000 years old.
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