Here is a guide to what you need to know.
It is sometimes necessary for an exhumation – the removal of human remains from a grave – to take place. Such an exhumation is undertaken to: ascertain the cause of death; ascertain the identity of the deceased; transfer the remains to another point of burial; or remove the remains for cremation purposes.The Gauteng Provincial Government, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Council, may exhume a body on request from the immediate family for any of these reasons. The court, by means of a court order, may also authorise an exhumation if the cause of death is suspected to be of an unnatural nature, or for any other legal necessity.
A seven-working day period is required for administrative purposes before an exhumation can be performed. This will give the applicant time to obtain the necessary authorisation from respective authorities. This period also allows time for the South African police services to arrange for a police officer to be present at the time of the exhumation.
The following costs are involved with regard to the exhumation process:
- Cemetery administrative charges
- Costs incurred by council in the case of a pauper´s burial
- The appointed funeral undertaker’s charges
- New burial costs
What happens to the original grave?
In the case of a pauper, the grave remains the property of the council. With a normal burial, the grave remains the property of the family member who obtained the rights to the grave. This grave can be re-used at a later stage or even sold.
The following procedure must be followed when applying for an exhumation:1. Permission must be obtained from the office of the Minister Development and Planning, Gauteng Provincial Government.
Physical address: Corner Commissioner and Sauer streets, Johannesburg.
Postal address: Private Bag X085, Marshalltown, 2107
Telephone: (011) 355-5023
2. Permission must be obtained from the Gauteng Provincial Department of Health.
Physical address: 37 Sauer Street, Johannesburg
Postal address: Private Bag X86, Marshalltown, 2107
Telephone: (011) 335-3497
3. Permission must obtain from the Medical Officer of Health: Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. Contact the Manager for Cemeteries and Crematoria.
Physical address: City Parks House, 40 De Korte Street, Braamfontein
Telephone: (011) 712-6600
4. With pauper exhumation, a fee which depends on when the deceased was buried is payable at the metropolitan centre. This fee is in lieu of charges incurred by the council for initially burying the deceased.
5. A fee is payable at the office of the cemetery where the exhumation is to take place.
6. The Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council’s Medical Officer of Health requires a certified copy of the deceased’s death certificate when application for the exhumation is made.
7. Application must be made at the nearest police station seven days before the exhumation in order to have a police officer present at the grave when the exhumation takes place.
8. All conditions, as stipulated by the above authorities, must be strictly adhered to before any exhumation will be allowed in terms of the Removal of Graves and Dead Bodies Ordinance, 1925 (Ordinance 7 of 1925).
9. A reference number for payment of a fee is obtainable from the central Cemetery Booking Office.
Johannesburg has three crematoria in the greater Johannesburg area, located at the Braamfontein, Brixton and Lenasia cemeteries. Although the exact methods have changed in modern times, the cremation process remains essentially the same. Most modern cremators use gas to heat the remains to between 700 and 1 000 degrees Celsius. At these temperatures, the natural combustion process destroys human remains.
There are a number of legal formalities that must be attended to before a cremation can be held, and it is often wise to allow a respected funeral director to handle the legal documents allowing for a cremation to go ahead.
The following considerations are important to remember:
Only a medical referee appointed by the crematorium authorities can give permission for a cremation to take place. The medical referee must be confident that the primary cause of death has been established beyond doubt, and that the cremation is not contrary to the wishes of the deceased. The referee usually relies on the application for cremation forms and a doctor’s medical declaration to confirm medical findings and the deceased’s wishes.
It is vitally important that medical implants such as pacemakers be removed before a cremation takes place. Such implants can explode at high temperature – putting crematorium staff in danger and damaging cremation equipment.
It is recommended that the family remove any jewellery after death or prior to cremation as the cremator runs at such a high temperature that most metals fuse with other material.
Each cremator will only accept one adult coffin at a time and the cremains must be removed before the cremator is used again. All crematoria have some method of identifying cremains, and families can be sure they are receiving the right cremains.
The funeral director will also ask the next of kin how they would prefer the cremains to be disposed of. It is often wise to make a decision regarding this disposal as soon as possible.
Reopening and cremationsMonday to Thursday: Two working days' notice and payment by 12 noon one day prior
Friday to Sunday: Payment by Wednesday 12 noon
New gravesMonday to Thursday: One working days’ notice and payment by 12 noon one day prior
Friday to Sunday: Payment by Thursday 12 noon