As a people who’ve been at the bottom of the food chain since Jan Van Riebeek and friends docked on our shores – it has been a struggle to get to the top. Maybe, because of this – or as a coping mechanism – we’ve developed habits that don’t help our struggle for economic empowerment. Take for instance, how elaborate our funerals are.

The first funeral I attended was that of my paternal grandfather when I was just eleven years old. Even at that age, I noticed how over the top it was. Obviously back then I didn’t see anything wrong with this, but as I grew older and attended more funerals, the exorbitance started to bother me. I know that a burial is a way of honouring a loved one, a way of paying our last respects, but we don’t have to financially cripple ourselves to do this.

Now in my thirties the one question I keep asking myself is: are these inflated costs necessary? Why should paying respect to the departed leave us poor? I feel the showiness of some of these funerals is self-serving and has nothing to do with the deceased – never in the history of burials has a dead person woken up and complained about how cheap their casket is or how they’re bothered by the fact that there’s no after tears.

For those not familiar with a black funeral, allow me the liberty to give you a quick break down. From the time the community hears of someone’s passing, they start to flock to the deceased’s house for prayer. There’s nothing wrong with this – except it doesn’t come cheap. Members of the community will show up to help with preparations for the funeral. They will help with mundane tasks like making tea and cooking for each person that comes to offer their condolences.

At this point relatives from out of town would start arriving from that night. Every room in the house will be lined with mattresses and blankets, brought to the house by neighbours. Some will show up with crockery and cutlery, and everything that might be needed to make the ceremony go as smoothly as possible. But the bereaved has to pay for the food that will be consumed for the next eight to ten days. I’ve just introduced you to our catering system – this will set you back by R18 000 minimum including a cow, and a bit more if you treat your guests to mutton and chicken.

Then, there’s the tent situation. The coffin verses casket debate – the casket always wins. A cheap casket costs R 8 000, an expensive one will fetch a cool R 50 000. The casket needs to be accompanied by a grave, a headstone, undertaker fees and transport. By the time you’re done, the burial would have cost you at least R100 000 – if you can still live like a king and not be hounded by debt collectors after this, please go ahead and ball out of control. However, if you just like me, living hand to mouth, why are you so insistent on spending so much?

At home when we talk about burials, Mama always tells us that she wants a small burial, she doesn’t want anything lavish, “the cheapest coffin you can find,” she says. “People won’t die if they eat one type of meat.” Basically, what mama is telling us, is that we don’t have to break the bank to show people we loved her.

I on the other hand, I loathe the idea of confined spaces (so no box for me), and I live with the fear of being kept in those massive fridges in morgues. Therefore, I would love nothing more than to be cremated as soon as humanly possible, I want my ashes to be kept for my son to scatter where he sees fit. Whatever pay-out I get from the funeral plans should go towards his education, kept for his future travels or invested.
I know this will be frowned upon in my community, and will set the gossip mill running at full speed, but I’m OK with this – the dead feel nothing and hopefully the ones I leave behind will be smiling to the bank. For everyone else that loved me, a memorial service will do, with a funeral for close relatives and friends only.


Tell us: Do you think people spend unreasonable amounts of money on funerals?

This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.