AIDS steals lives in Durban faster than South Africans can dig graves:
This city is being battered by an AIDS pandemic so sweeping that people are dying faster than the city can find space to bury them. And so gravediggers like Mr. Gasa are reopening existing graves – the city calls it “recycling” – and interring fresh bones atop the old ones. The job gives Mr. Gasa nightmares. “I think it is not a good thing, to take out the bones” for reburial, he said during a break in his spadework. “But we have no choice.”
Every time southern Africa’s AIDS epidemic threatens to exhaust its store of superlatives, some new, sobering extreme rises to the fore. The latest is Durban, where 51 of the 53 municipal cemeteries are officially filled to capacity, and a surging death rate threatens to overwhelm the remaining two within a couple of years. “Five years ago, we used to have about 120 funerals a weekend, but this number has now jumped to 600,” Thembinkosi Ngcobo, who heads the municipal department of parks and cemeteries, said in an interview this week. “In order to cope with the current rate of mortality – we hope it is not going to increase – we will need to have 12.1 hectares every year of new gravesites.” That is nearly 30 acres. “That would obviously turn Durban and the whole country into one big graveyard if we continue,” he said.