|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
|Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 20:43 GMT
The Zimbabwean way of death
A shortage of burial space in Harare is forcing practically minded Zimbabweans to reserve their final resting place with cash down in advance.
The capital has been struggling with the lack of final resting places and getting a decent burial is becoming increasingly difficult.
The shortage means only 30 minutes can be spent on each burial service in the over-subscribed graveyards.
The high number of deaths of paupers has also added to the problem. In Harare's cemeteries, about 35 people are buried each day.
More than 300 paupers and infants are buried each week and cremating them would save a lot of space.
Given the lack of free land around Harare, cremation would appear an ideal solution.
It is, however, taboo among black Zimbabweans who constitute more than 95% of the country's 13 million people.
According to a Harare City Council official, they are increasingly encouraging people to turn to cremation to save on a lot of land which is now expensive.
But black Zimbabweans still prefer to bury their departed six feet under.
By now, however, the grave shortage ought to have meant that cultural sensitivities or not, cremation is increasingly appearing the only option, says our Harare correspondent.
Cremation may be popular among the estimated small population of Asian origin and among some of the country's whites.
But according to an official in the Harare City Council's amenities department, he has only seen two blacks being cremated in the past 11 years.
''I don't think there are more than 10 black people who have been cremated since independence" in 1980, he said.
''If you look at the costs, in the end it's cheaper to cremate than bury because you won't have the costs of buying a tombstone and maintaining the grave.''
It costs between US$23 and US$50 to book a plot for up to 10 years, against US$81 for a cremation.
And according to a City of Harare amenities official, if the person does not die within that period, then he or she loses the place.
''It's not like we are encouraging you to die, but after 10 years you have to pay for another booking to show that you are still interested in the place,'' he said.
HIV/Aids has played a role as one of the grimmest of reapers. Government figures show that more than 1,200 people die every week because of the disease.
''It's better to burn than take up land which could be used for other things,'' said the city council official.
But talk of cremation riles traditionalists who say it is "uncultural".
''We believe that a person's spirit will come back and look after the departed's family,'' said Zvomuya Gwindi, a traditional healer.
''So if you burn the dead body, you will anger that spirit and it will come back as an unhappy spirit.
''In our culture we don't do that and we have to respect our culture and stick to it. Burning is a non-starter,'' the healer said.
But despite the horror of traditionalists, at least one Harare resident is warming to the idea.
''Once you are dead you are dead. It's unfortunate that in our culture we still believe that one will come back after death,'' she said.
''I want to leave a bit of my ash with everybody who loves me. I know it goes against African culture, but that is what I would want,'' she added.
An open letter to the UNDP
Your 1998 donors conference was the last sane episode in the Zimbabwe land saga. Since then you have tried to maintain some sort of dialogue with an arrogant and dismissive government that has taken matters into its own hands for political reasons. Soon you are to head back for another go. You may find the government of Zimbabwe rather more amenable than in the past. They are up to their necks and sinking and you, or rather the donor money you can licence, is a thick and buoyant straw for them to grab at. Even so they will strive to stage-manage your visit, to show you only what they want you to see and to hard sell to you their tattered and unworkable programmes. Even if you cannot escape your Zanu PF minders you might ask the following questions and keep asking them until you get some credible answers:
Move fast but do not be lured into supporting the criminal fast track programme. Zimbabwe, and those who would help her, deserve better. Zimbabwe needs a land reform programme that is driven by poverty reduction and the need for wider opportunities for all rather than by politics and racism. Please make your plans as detailed, transparent and exact as possible so that everybody, farmers, farm workers, government and donors know where they stand and what to expect.
Yours is a heavy responsibility. Please do not fail us.