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Friday Feb 17, 2012

Private enterprise eases Durban's cemetery crisis

A new private cemetery opened in KwaZulu-Natal could be a solution to Durban's serious shortage of burial space.

The Lala Kahle Cemetery project started by, among others, a proponent of black economic empowerment, Don Mkhwanazi, opened its gates for business last weekend when the first body was buried.

Acetowise Investment, which runs the cemetery, is planning to open more commercial cemeteries around the country.

Lala Kahle, in Hillcrest, is a response to the ethekwini municipality's plea for burial space last year. With 20 000 burials a year, the city warned that it had "completely" run out of space. It said that it needed R20 million to buy land for a new cemetery.

The private cemetery, which does not cater for cremation, has a 1 200-grave capacity. Each grave costs between R1 200 (for children) and R2 500 (for adults), while the municipal cemeteries charge between R800 and R3 000 a grave.

Once Lala Kahle (rest in peace), which is in phase one, runs out of space, a phase-two cemetery will be developed on the same farm, which has 27ha of land. The farm used to be a cemetery for pauper burials until the owner, who had a contract with the municipality, went out of business eight years ago.

The paupers' site is a short distance from the new cemetery.

Mkhwanazi said that he and his business partners in Acetowise had gone into this business to "restore a culture of dignified burial".

"We wanted to make sure that people are not forced to cremate the bodies of their loved ones or recycle graves because of a shortage of burial space. In our culture, we do not cremate bodies or recycle

Agraves because that disturbs the deceased. When the municipality raised the concern about the shortage of grave space, we decided to intervene. We are not doing this for profit only, but also want to create stability," said Mkhwanazi.

He said that his company was also negotiating with other municipalities across the country, with the aim of opening more private cemeteries.

Mkhwanazi is chairman of various companies, including the Central Energy Fund, Khulani Property Holdings and Durban Investment Promotion Agency. He is also referred to as the father of black economic empowerment.

Thembinkosi Ngcobo, ethekwini's head of parks, recreation and culture, said the city was excited about the new cemetery. He said the invitation for more help to deal with the "severe" burial space shortage was still open. Ngcobo said the municipality had found that the Lala Kahle project was suitable for the needs of the local community because of its reasonable prices.

"They also set aside a budget to continue maintaining the cemetery for many years to come," he said.

Hillcrest Ratepayers' Association chairwoman Lilian Develing said that the cemetery was badly needed because of a high death rate in the area. However, she would like to know whether environmental and health officials had given the land a thumbs-up, and that the local water supply would not be affected. "There are very strict rules to cemeteries, but there are so many people dying in the area... Some families are burying in their gardens," she said.

The Mercury

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