• Eastern Cape Rising Sun

Modern funerals, dying to impress

Are you assured of a dignified funeral? This is often the opening line of many funeral policy advertisements on media platforms. But, what is a dignified funeral?


The concept of funerals has advanced significantly from the primitive days of village life where logistics were preparing a home cooked meal and a prayer among immediate family and neighbours. Nowadays burials have become extravagant events that can cost up to one and a half million rands.


South Africa has a high mortality rate at 17 per 1 000 people, double the global average, according to CIA World Factbook. This has contributed to the growth of funeral homes as they assist families with the funeral arrangements through policies.


These policies come at a high price that is often not affordable, as was the case with Gladys Mhiti Rhulumeni who lost her son in initiation school. She has been struggling to raise funds to bury him and took to the public requesting financial assistance.


Funeral homes offer a range of services from airtime, food catering, transport, tombstones, and coffins. Although these services are a great relief in case of an untimely death, one has to consistently pay their monthly premiums of up to R600; and if you default on payments by two months, you lose your cover. “We cancel the policy if you go AWOL for two months, but customers can approach us to make an arrangement that would save your policy. A payment arrangement is very critical,” according to Old Mutual.


People who cannot afford the monthly premiums are often forced to take up massive loans that they cannot afford to payback due to high interest rates, much the same as they could not afford a policy.


In the olden days, funerals differed from one culture to another. Most people would be cremated and their ashes scattered where the family desired or kept in the house. Today, people spend on caskets worth thousands and outrageous life-sized tombstones have become the new tradition.


In the African culture, the deceased would be buried in no more than three days after they have passed on. On the day of the funeral, close family members would bring food offerings to ensure that the family does not carry the burden of having to slave while bereaved.


According to Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, chairperson of the Congress of Traditional Leaders, “the basic fundamentals of funerals has changed, everything is costly and because of that, funerals have big white tents and fancy puddings as if it is a wedding ceremony when in actual fact, people are mourning and it is a sad time for them,” he lamented.


In the olden days, a family would slaughter a sheep or a calf as an offering to the ancestors to accept their loved one as they join them in spirit. For infants there was an exclusive practise called Ukuqhusheka (hide); which means the baby would be buried in no more than 24 hours in secret with only the family in presence. Nowadays funeral services are held for infants as they would for adults just with a less number of people, but the same exorbitant cost.


In the Hindu culture, a funeral, memorial and cremation are part of the same day activities. This is considered to be an ancient practice, but it is done that way by most Hindu families.


Phindile Siwisa owns a photography and videography company in Mthatha. She is often uncomfortable when she receives a request to document a funeral. “To document a family in mourning in such a permanent fashion can be unnerving, but the money is really good. I get a lot of job requests almost every weekend. I have, however, decided to stop offering that service, it just does not feel right,” said Siwisa.


A breakdown of the most you can spend on A funeral:

Burial space - R4 500

Coffin/casket - R150 000

Cost of catering - R30 000

Tombstone - R1m

Priest/preacher - R500

Undertaker - R4 000

Pre-funeral hosting - R4 000

Tent -R5 000

Venue - R10 000

Flower arrangement - R5 000

Photography/ videography - R10 000

Obituary design and printing - R5 000

Funeral cover per month - R40 – R600.


A not so fitting funeral


After experiencing the heartache of losing her mother, Zikhona Seti of Braelyn had to endure more stress with what she calls an ‘indecent burial’ by Marais Funeral Parlour in Southernwood where her mother had a policy.


Seti’s mother died from a heart attack a few weeks ago, and as a result her body weight increased, requiring a bigger casket. The family had to add R3 500 for the cost of a bigger casket. However when the day of the funeral arrived, the parlour postponed the funeral to the next day and brought her mother’s body in a casket that was too small, inside a trailor.

“It wouldn’t close so they used dirty and old wires. As they were driving with it, the lid kept flapping and I thought the body was going to pop out. It was horrible,” narrates Seti.


In addition the family had to pay double at the grave-site because they had to change the day of the funeral from Saturday to Sunday. They tried to engage the owner of the parlour who would not even open the doors for them, so they called the police.


Marais Funeral Parlour denies the allegations made by Seti and an employee who refuses to be named claims, “Mrs Seti was buried in a R27 000 casket as per arrangement. We don’t know what they are talking about. If the family had a complaint, they should have come to us,’’ he said.


Attempts to get hold of the owner proved fruitless. The employee instead threatened legal action against the Setis.



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