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Grieving families scramble for graves

2021-07-09  Albertina Nakale

Grieving families scramble for graves
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Due to the escalating Covid-19-related deaths, some families have complained that the City of Windhoek is unable to keep up with the high demand for graves for
them to bury their loved ones within the timeframe as stipulated by public health regulations. 

Although government has relaxed restrictions from seven to 10 days with respect to Covid-19 deaths to allow burials at a site which families prefer, some families are battling with the city authorities to be allocated a grave. 

The capital city has the nation’s worst rate of coronavirus deaths, putting a strain on available resources. The latest Covid-19 update yesterday showed that over 1 800 people have succumbed to the virus thus far. To make matters worse, the health system is also reportedly stretched, and the country’s mortuaries have reached maximum capacity. 

This situation has forced families of Covid-19 victims to collect the bodies of their loved ones for burial early as stipulated by the public health regulations.

“As a grieving family, we still have to fight a battle with the city to be allocated a grave since Monday [5 July]. Our burial is this Saturday, and we need to build the grave, but the officials in the office are not taking this seriously,” bemoaned a grieving family member who refused to be named. 

“We have been waiting for the grave number since Tuesday. Our funeral services provider was following up, but we still have not resolved it since we are still waiting on a grave.”

He added that they, together with other residents, were this week at the city’s office responsible for burial sites and allocations, begging for grave numbers to bury their
loved ones before the end of this week. 

“This is unacceptable, and not the promise that the city made to its residents. We are paying N$2 912 for a grave, but still have to beg the office responsible to do
their work. This is unacceptable, and poor customer service towards residents during their time of mourning. 

It is common sense to dig more graves than usual since we have a pandemic that affects us all, and they were supposed to source additional capacity,” a grieving family
member said. These affected family members said they spoke to the manager in charge of parks, and asked him why they only have one service provider digging graves while everyone is aware of the situation in the country, and in particular the death statistics on a daily basis. Therefore, they are
demanding from the city to make provision for enough graves and bring several service providers on board who can assist with the demand. Approached for comment, city spokesperson Lydia Amutenya yesterday clarified that the local authority does not only have one contractor. “We have four contractors assigned to dig graves at the Gammams cemetery. However, given the soil type and rock formations, the earthmoving equipment take longer than usual due to the challenge that the site is rocky, and that leads to delays in grave allocations.” Under normal circumstances, she said, there are graves readily available and families would immediately be issued a grave number upon request. But with the current high demand for graves, sometimes the available graves do not meet the specific demand as some families want to build out the graves for their loved ones before the burial. Amutenya said it was against this background that the city was now allocating graves a day before the burial, once a request has been received. 

She added that the demand for cremations also remains high, as even those cremated at the city’s crematorium are allocated burial graves. In terms of space, Amutenya indicated that there is enough space at the local cemeteries as some inner roads are being used for the allocation of burial space. “We would like to assure the public that we are doing our utmost best to deliver the required services under the current circumstances, and apologise for the unintended delays,” she added.  –

2021-07-09  Albertina Nakale

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