The reason the Medupi power station is suffering delays is because graves were disturbed during construction, upsetting the ancestors, the CRL Rights Commission said on Tuesday.
“How come this Medupi never comes together?” asked commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi in Johannesburg at the release of a report on the re-use of graves by local governments.
“It’s the bones underneath and in the vicinity. Some of the graves were destroyed there,” she said of the power station near Lephalale, Limpopo.
“The belief systems of some people will tell you that this Medupi dream of yours will never happen. It will be another 10 years.”
Construction of the power station has been beset by delays and strikes by contractors.
She said the commission would send a report to Eskom on how to deal with the “bones that were strewn around” in a way that was culturally and religiously sustainable.
The report by the CRL Commission, a Chapter 9 institution that protects cultural and religious practices and linguistic communities, was compiled following complaints that several municipalities around the country were “recycling” graves.
Mkhwanazi said the ANC-run eThekwini municipality, the main culprit in grave recycling, was disrespecting cultural values.
“For this to happen 21 years into democracy, for the ANC not to value the dead people, it tells you we are in a crisis. It tells us our values are not valued by those in power,” she continued.
Ton of complaints
The commission had received “a ton” of complaints from residents in several municipalities around the country, mainly from eThekwini.
People were upset to find strangers buried in their relatives’ graves, and tombstones being removed and replaced with those of unrelated people.
She said it was hard to reverse the effects, in terms of spirituality and cultural beliefs, of having a “Smith buried on top of a Naidoo on top of a Mkhwanazi”.
“If we allow the eThekwini municipality to continue, other municipalities are likely to gravitate towards doing this. The new struggle is to have access to our forefathers,” she said.
According to African beliefs, the ancestor is believed to be living with God and playing a prominent, intercessory role in the life of a particular family, she explained.
“This is your Jesus, it takes you to God,” she said.
“Recycling” a grave was akin to bombing a mosque. When people spoke to their ancestors, “I call them from the grave, not from some black plastic bag where they have been recycled,” she said.
“A grave is a place of communicating with those who have gone before,” said the commission’s deputy chairperson, Luka Mosoma.
Mkhwanazi said the practice was affecting the poor the worst, as they could not afford headstones and municipalities were re-using these graves.
“The bigger the tombstone, the less likely you are to be recycled. This makes the poor people poorer, because if you don’t have the ancestors backing you, you are more likely to be poor.”
She said the eThekwini municipality’s procedure was to advertise its intention in the classified section of newspapers, but questioned if people saw these adverts.
Local government’s position on the matter was that suitable land for cemeteries was fast becoming depleted, she said.
“They are making it a land struggle. What local government is saying is very dangerous.”
‘One body, one grave’
The first prize, she said, was “one body one grave”. A weak second option was for municipalities to discuss recycling graves with affected relatives and communities before doing it.
Mkhwanazi said the commission had held talks with local government, Parliament, the SA Local Government Association (Salga), and others.
“We are going to be much more aggressive. We’ve tried being nice. We are going to let the Constitution speak.”
She called for national legislation on the matter. If the practice continued, the commission would ask its lawyers to approach the courts for them to determine “what now?”.
“We hope this thing can be solved over a cup of tea. We are willing to give it one more try within a couple of weeks,” she added.
Salga’s Mvuyisi April said municipalities were “seriously running out of space”, but that there was no room for municipalities to violate rights. Salga was looking at striking a balance between managing space and respecting people’s rights, he said.