Co-operative Funerals in South Africa – David Collingwood

David Collingwood and Stirling Smith, with the funding of Co-operative Enterprise Hub, scouted Soweto in Johannesburg South Africa for opportunities in the funeral sector. Their findings blew them away. Their aim was to create job opportunities with co-operative funerals while increasing financial footprint and potential business for their organisation. South African has one of the highest death rates in the world ranking 14th in 2011 at 17 deaths per 1000 people. In South African Townships, Soweto in particular, cost-effective, yet dignified funerals are in high demand. Most funerals cost 2/3rds of what the average household in that community earns in a year.

Co-operative FuneralsIronically, funerals in this community are a big deal. The large South African populace conducts their funerals by way of burial as opposed to, say, cremation. Traditional customs in this part of the world, (like cow slaughtering). Make a typical South African funeral quite a different and expensive experience to the ones that Collingwood and Smith see in the UK. Families often have to cater for friends. Extended family and associates for some time before and after the actual funeral day.

Co-operative Funerals

Collingwood and Smith on their visits to cemeteries such as Avalon in Soweto found that the high number of burials. Up to 250 a day is a challenging fact for funeral service providers as is the heat in the South African climate. That also brings along its challenges, such as decreasing cemetery space and long distances travelled to these cemeteries.  As a result of this visit, a South African contingent made up of members of the People’s Cultural Organisation visited Co-operative Funeralcare in Liverpool UK, those of the Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre also joined in. The city council of Johannesburg also sent representatives. Stockport Crematorium was made part of the tour as did a wooded cemetery, funeral services home and a coffin manufacturer, this manufacturer has a yearly production average of about 100, 000 coffins.

The result was the formation of a co-operative of workers. Established by Umkhonto we Sizwe, which is the military side on the ANC. As opposed to just funding the initiative and handing out resources. Collingwood and Smith rather provide training and recommendations thus ensuring sustainability. The training includes drafting a business plan, which makes funding from start-up initiatives more accessible.


Though profits are great, co-operative funerals are more about people. Therefore members can come up with ideas to bring about cost effective funeral solutions for their clientele. Other ideas on the sustainability trail are creating a network of co-operatives as with franchising; this helps standardise costs, while different service providers can refer clients on to each other. It is a potent marketing tool.  The local and provincial government also allocate funding for initiatives such as these. The UK has also committed to aiding by a form of guidance and advice from experts in the field, especially in coffin making.

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All info was correct at time of publishing