The Burial of a Deceased Person

The Burial of a Deceased Person can be facilitated in two ways; burial or cremation. The choice is largely dependent on the traditions or religious beliefs of the deceased or their family.

Whichever method is chosen for the burial of a deceased Person, there are some legal provisions that must be observed. The Constitution of South Africa gives powers to the provincial authorities to enforce the regulations concerning burial and cremation.

The province could then delegate these enforcement powers to the local governments. Each province has formulated its own by-laws concerning the maintenance of crematoriums and cemeteries using the 1996 Act. Laws governing the burial of a deceased person determine how graves are constructed, requirements for coffins and procedures for burial among other details.

A cemetery must fulfill certain requirements to be legally recognised. All graves must be accessible by a pathway. Sections of the cemetery may be kept apart for specific religious or cultural groups but this should not be done on the basis of race or language and generally cemeteries are required to be orderly and well laid out.

Grave requirementsThe Burial of a Deceased Person

All graves in the locality should be constructed according to the following requirements. An adult grave must be a minimum of 2.4m long and 1.2m deep while a child’s grave must be at least 90cm long and 60cm deep. After the coffin has been put in it has to be covered by at least 300 millimeters of soil.

Coffin requirements

The act forbids the burial of a body without a coffin or a stipulated covering. A body must only be interred when it is enclosed in a coffin or a body bag. The only exception to this stipulation is if the body cannot be put in a coffin or body bag for religious or cultural reasons.

Even then the body must be wrapped in a burial shroud or some other form of perishable wrapping. Coffins themselves must be made from soft wood or a similarly perishable material except parts such as the handles.

The KwaZulu-Natal Council of Churches has been on a campaign to promote the use of cheap coffins made from wood harvested from alien invasive tree species, commonly referred to as ‘Eco-Coffins’.

These are the kinds of trees that are not indigenous to South Africa and are considered detrimental to the environment. The Department for Water and Forestry is itself keen on seeing as much of the wood used for coffins and furniture.

A coffin must be occupied by a single body except in some special circumstances which include the following:

  • Mother and child pass away together during birth.
  • Two family members die at the same time. Ordinarily this will be spouses but the exception can extend to other family members.
  • A couple which had lived together for a while as a married couple though they were not legally married.

For all of the above cases the tariff required for each body will still have to be paid separately.

Conditions for re-use of a grave

In the burial of a deceased Person there are two instances in which a grave can be used again. In both cases the local health officer or district surgeon must be consulted and permission sought from them before proceeding. Also a thorough check for human remains apart from bones must be conducted on the site before burial can proceed.

If these are discovered then the grave has to be closed and burial barred. Bones found in and around the grave must be reburied in that very grave in the presence of an undertaker or the committee in charge of the cemetery.

  • The two bodies belong to the same family. Even in this case they must ensure that the first body is buried deep enough such that it is not hindered when the second person is being buried.
  • The next of kin of the deceased first laid to rest in the grave gives express permission a minimum of 10 years after the body was buried.


Burial location

The body of a deceased person can only be interred in a public cemetery that has been established by the municipality or a legally approved private cemetery. The body can also be buried on land owned by the deceased or their family at the time when death occurred.

A provision is there for the burial of a deceased Person on someone else’s land but the owner of the property must be notified and be consenting to the burial. The land must also be designated for use for burials, meaning it must conform to the Act’s stipulations for size, depth and distance between graves. Should one object to the reuse of a burial space they can take up a complaint with the Minister of Home Affairs.

Burial procedure for the Burial of a Deceased Person

There are three main steps that one needs to observe when they want to conduct a burial:

  1. Obtain a burial order.
  2. Apply for a burial.
  3. Prepare for burial.

Obtain a burial order

A burial order, from the Department of Home Affairs must be secured before interment can proceed. Ordinarily this step in the procedure is taken care of by the undertaker but if one has not been hired, the family will have to secure the burial order, or BI-14.

If the deceased died from a communicable disease they should be either buried immediately or taken to a mortuary right away as the law requires. In such cases a burial order is not required.

Apply for a burial

This step will also be taken care of by the undertaker if one has been engaged. If not the family must give a notice to the cemetery supervisor at least eight hours prior through the prescribed municipal form.

The form must be signed by one of the deceased surviving relatives or anyone appointed in that capacity. Other details the form should have include the size of the grave and the time of the burial.

Prepare for burial

    • This will usually involve stripping the body of all valuables such as jewellery.
    • Counterchecking all information on death certificate and other documents to ensure it is correct.

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All info was correct at time of publishing