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Lusaka Copes With Shortage of Burial Sites


In Lusaka, Zambia, the fast growth of cities and the lack of urban planning have led to a shortage of burial sites. Danstan Kaunda takes a look at the situation in the Zambian capital.

It’s not unusual in Lusaka’s newspapers to read tales of grave diggers unearthing old human remains as they lay to rest new ones. The graveyards are full, and some people are burying their relatives on top of other bodies.

The Chingwere cemetery in the northern part of the city was supposed to be closed six months ago, but due to lack of alternative place, people are still using the site.

Local officials say another burial site – the old Leopards Hill cemetery -- will be full within a year. They say there’s no available land left in the city.

Chanda Makanta is an official of the Lusaka City Council.

"We have no alternative burial space here [in Lusaka]," he says, "and people should understand that the city has run out of [public] land completely. [People] are bury [their deceased relatives] there not because we [the council] have given them space. There are unscrupulous [people acting as salesmen] who are taking advantage of the situation. They are [selling] small portions of land [in the grave yard] without the council’s authority."

But Lusaka resident Timothy Makota says he does not condemn the illegal grave plots. He says, "I can not like condemn those grave-diggers [who give out illegal burial plots]. They are helping the community, because currently the council has no plans [to improve the situation]. If they are stopped [the illegal grave diggers] then where would poor people [bury their relatives]?"

The situation has resulted in the creation of private cemeteries. But people say the cost of the burial plots there is too expensive. The costs range from K1, 500,000 to K5,000,000 [About US$428 to $1,428.]

Johan Richter is the manager of a private burial ground, Mutumbi Cemetery and Remembrance Park.

He said graves have never truly been “free.” Richter adds that government has usually provided subsidies for public plots, but now the cemeteries are full. People have to pay for private sites.

But what about the people who cannot afford private cemeteries like Mutumbi?

City council member Chanda Makanta offers her opinion.

"If the worse comes to worse," she saysd, "I can see a situation where the council can propose that we start cremating bodies because we do not have space to bury them. Though it is not in our culture, we should understand that ….a dead body is a dead body."

Muslims and Hindus in Zambia says they have no problem with cremation, but most Zambians, who are Christian, say it goes against their religious beliefs.

Lusaka’s population has grown four-fold in the last 10 years to well over 2.8 million people. Over 900 bodies are buried every month.