Affordable Funerals and The Use of Eco-Coffins

Pastoral Letter of KwaZulu-Natal Church Leaders’, May 2007

The KwaZulu-Natal Church Leaders’ Group (KZNCLG) brings greetings to the Churches, ecumenical agencies and Christian organisations to the Province, with whom it wishes to share its concern about the high cost of funerals. The Church Leaders would like to help develop a way in which families can bury their dead with dignity but without sinking into debt. We are particularly concerned about the poor, the unemployed and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. Therefore we wish to begin a process of reflection and discussion on the question of how to stop expensive funerals and reinstate dignified family celebrations.


To guide our reflection and discussion we have had recourse to the Scriptures. We begin with the issue of when the burial should take place.

Burial Within 24 Hours

In Biblical times, for reasons of health (early onset of decay) and ritual purity the dead were buried within 24hrs or before the next day. If a person for some reason had to be kept for a long time, up to 40 days s/he would have to be embalmed. This embalming of people would in most cases be done for the kings or other notables in society.

The Modern Times

We accept that burying within 24 hours is not practical in most modern situations. We also accept that the dispersal of families often demands that the funeral be delayed for a week or two. So we will keep in mind the costs that arise from these family considerations for storing the body in the mortuary.

Places of Burial

We also accept that legal requirements such as where bodies may be interred and where not, must be considered and that there could add to expenses.

Cost of Funerals The Cost of Coffins

We are greatly concerned about the mystery or secrecy that often surrounds coffin and funeral costs. In many instances the industry is very reluctant to release information generally. This raises suspicions of a cartel being in operation, and open exploitation of people who while grieving are most vulnerable to all kinds of psychological pressures and tricks.

The Three Most Exorbitantly Marked Items

The three exorbitant charge after the casket/ coffin and services such as carrying the body from home, to the mortuary, preparing it for burial, transporting it to Church is the provision of chefs, DJ’s, printers, etc.

The Cost of “After Tears”

Another area of concern is what is popularly know as “After Tears” the Feast and Drinking Party that follows the burial. Our quarrel with After Tears is that it contravenes tradition and custom on a number of counts. In the olden days it was friends and neighbours who brought food and drink to relieve the grieving family of the burden of offering hospitality to mourners. Second, custom decrees a period of mourning which includes ukuzila (fasting and wearing mourning clothes). Not only is “After Tears” an unnecessary expense it also disregards the family’s natural and emotional need to grieve.

The Four Most Important Points of Consumer Advise

So this is what we advise

  • Find out how much funeral services and caskets/ coffins should cost … that is, a low reasonable price.
  • Find a mortuary or funeral home/ parlour with reasonable prices … regardless of its location in your area
  • Don’t buy protective seal caskets/ coffins. They harm the bodies, rather than protect them.
  • Be cautious about pre-pay plan. Most lock-in high prices; and/ or are non­refundable or non-cancellable (
    • Have a serious look at the eco-coffin proposal.

The eco-coffin project aims to enable families to pay their last tributes to their loved ones in a dignified and culturally acceptable manner.

It tries to do this by providing affordable, modest, and dignified eco-coffins that will reduce the financial burden on the poor who also want to maintain their human dignity as they bury their dead in a socially and culturally respectful and acceptable manner.

Cost of Shifting Ownership of Bereavement from the Community to the Family

In traditional and Biblical communities death and bereavement was a communal responsibility, which include making preparations and bearing the costs of the burial. The burden was not left with the family. The community brought water, food and firewood, and assisted in all funeral chores and costs. Unfortunately this practice has been abandoned, and in its place has arisen the custom of the family having to bear the full costs of feeding all who come to mourn with them.

In order to address this issue, the churches encourage families to discuss and take a position on how they will conduct their funerals of their members, so as not to plunge the family into debt.

The adults must lead by example showing young people how to dress and conduct themselves at funerals. Entertainment, drinking, fashion parades and shows have no place at the funeral. Rather the form of behaviour shall include modest and dignified dress. Young people must be taught by word and example that funerals must be conducted with sobriety, dignity and behavior.


A Pastoral Letter on the Local Government Elections 18 May 2011

Greetings to the people of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal

It is once more that period of the year where we are going to cast our votes for local government leadership in our country and the Province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is not least of all. In the past we in KZN have demonstrated our political maturity in a marvellous way. We have shown not only South Africa but the world that we can win and lose elections and be able to live with the results. That is how a democracy works.

We now have political responsibility to go to the polls and choose the leaders we want. Having registered for elections means we must take the next step and go to vote in numbers. This is one way we may be involved actively in making democracy work for our communities. We need to go to the polls and vote intelligently for the local government which will create opportunities for us to be developing and prosperous communities.

We must once more demonstrate that we are a peace-loving people. We must show the passion we have for our local political leaders by voting for them in a peaceful manner. Our communities deserve to be engulfed by peace and responsibility and commitment for the wellbeing of our democracy.

No one among us should be left behind in making this important and historical event for our democracy. And we urge our leaders to be equally responsible in not making the vote less fair and free. We must hold our leaders responsible for their conduct in these local government elections once more.

All of us must lead by example in respecting our electoral systems by holding them in high esteem. We are looking forward to a peaceful period before elections, during and after the event. We believe the Lord will bless this period of elections and bring prosperity to our lovely province – KZN

Yours in Ecumenism

Incwadi evela emabandleni abumbene ngokhetho :18 KuNhlaba 2011

Sibingelela umphakathi wonke waKwaZulu-Natal

Sekuphonde kwaba yileso sikhathi sonyaka futhi lapho sizophonsa khona amavoti ethu sikhetha ubuholi bohulumeni basekhaya, naso isifundazwe saKwaZulu- Natal asisincinyane kunezinye. Kokwedlule I KZN ikhombise ubungqwele kwezombusazwe ngendlela emangazayo. Lokhu asikukhombisanga eNingizimu Afrika kuphela kodwa umhlaba wonke ukuthi noma sehluliwe noma siphumelele okhethweni kodwa siyakwazi ukwamukela imiphumela yokhetho siqhubeke nempilo. Isebenza kanjlo vele intando yeningi.

Manje ke sibhekene nomsebenzi oyinselelo kwezombusazwe ukuba siye eziteshini zokuvota siyovota sikhethe abaholi esibafunayo. Ukubhalisela ukuvota kusho ukuthi simelwe ukuthatha igxathu elilandelayo elingukuya ukovota ngobuningi bethu. Yiyona ndlela leyo esingenza ngayo ukuthi intando yeningi isisebenzele emiphakathini yethu. Masiye eziteshini sivote ngobukhulu ubuchule lobu ukuze sizakhele amathuba entuthuko emiphakathini yethu.

Kufanele siphinde sikhombise ukuthi singumphakathi oluthandayo uxolo. Simelwe ukukhombisa ukuzinikela esinakho ngobuholi bomphakathi wethu sikwenze lokhu ngokuvota ngendlela enoxolo. Imiphakathi yethu ifanelwe ukwenganyelwa uxolo nokuthula nokuzinikela okuphelele kwintando yeningi yethu. Akekho okufanele asilele ngemuva ekwenzeni lengqophamlando kwintando yeningi yethu. Njengalokhu sinxenxa abaholi bethu ukuba nabo bazibophezele ngokufanayo ekwenzeni ukhetho lwethu lube ngolukhululekile noluneqiniso. Simelwe ukubenza abaholi bethu bazi ukuthi kufanele bazilande phambi kwethu futhi njengomphakathi ngendlela abaziphathe ngayo ngesikhathi sokhetho loHulumeni basemakhaya.

Sonke simelwe ukuba yisibonelo esihle ekuhlonipheni izinhlaka zokhetho ngokuluphatha ngendlela enesithunzi nehloniphekileyo. Silangazelela kakhulu isikhathi sokhetho esinokuthula noxolo. Siyakholwa ukuthi iNkosi izosibu- sisela ngalesi sikhathi sokhetho nangemuva kwaso isiphe futhi namathamsanqa kwisifundazwe sethu esisithandayo iKwaZulu-Natal

Yithina abenu ebunyeni bamabandla

Fully endorsed by: KwaZulu-Natal Democracy and Election Forum; KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council; Democracy Development Programme; KwaZulu Regional Christian Council; Diakonia Council of Churches; Young Men’s Christian Association; Southern KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council; Midlands Christian Council, Thukela -Amajuba-Mzinyathi Christian Council; Community Based Organisations Coalition

For more information contact: Dr L M Ngoetjana



This year marks the 20th anniversary of that great day when many South Africans of all races stood in long lines filled with hope to cast their vote for the first time in their lives. This year presents the 5th opportunity for all of us to cast our votes in a “new” South Africa.

As we reflect on this, we affirm that the country has remained peaceful, and is  relatively stable. The economy is still one of the strongest on the continent, and South Africa has played a leadership role on the continent. We acknowledge that there is, to a large degree, political freedom of expression and the ability to make choices at the ballot box. We acknowledge that the goal of political freedom has been attained. We must also, however, recognise that political freedom was not followed by economic freedom, nor by increased gender and environmental justice. The poverty gap has increased, the provision of quality housing remains woefully inadequate, service delivery is non-existent in many areas, and education and health are two major areas of concern. It is deeply distressing that too often, the pleas of the communities are ignored until they resort to protest action, which is met by violence, and then the problems are addressed and sometimes resolved.

The churches need to accept some responsibility for not consistently continuing the pursuit of the important Kin’dom value of justice – also as it manifests in economic, gender and environmental justice.

The greatest concern, when elections loom, is the potential for the resurgence of the political violence, which has plagued our province in previous elections. It is our sincere prayer that 20 years has brought sufficient political maturity to the people of this province whereby we are able to address our political differences with the ballot, and not with bullets or other weapons. We implore all voters in this province to exercise tolerance and understanding of others as they make their choice. We look forward to peaceful elections, which will provide a government with a servant heart for the people, and for a positive future for this land.


Bishop Rubin Phillip, Anglican Bishop of Natal (KZN) & Dean of the Anglican

Church of Southern Africa

Bishop Mike Vorster, Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Natal Coastal District & Chairperson KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council

Bishop Sandy Dickie, Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Natal West District

Bishop PP Buthelezi, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, South Eastern Diocese

Bishop Mlungisi Dlungwane, Roman Catholic Diocese of Marriannhill

Bishop Dino Gabriel, Anglican Diocese of Zululand & Chairperson KwaZulu Regional Christian Council

Bishop Nkosinathi Ndwandwe, Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Natal-South Episcopal Area

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM, Archdiocese of Durban & KwaZulu-Natal Inter- Religious Council

Revd Ian Booth, Moderator, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa & Chairperson Diakonia Council of Churches

Revd Derek Potgieter, Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa Presbytery of Thekwini

Revd Abednego Mngambi, Mpuma District Superintendent, United Methodist Church

Revd Zandile Myeni, Ethiopian Episcopal Church

Ms Liz Palmer, The Religious Society of Friends, KwaZulu-Natal

Major Solomon Mahlangu, Salvation Army Divisional Commander, Mid KwaZulu-Natal Division

Issued 21 February 2014

Published by KwaZulu-Natal Church Leaders Group Prepared by Diakonia Council of Churches