THE revelation that people in Choma, in Southern Province, are burying their relatives on top of old graves because the two burial sites in the district are full is worrisome.
This is not only causing stress to the families using the old graves, but it is nerve-wracking for others whose relatives’ burial sites are being defiled.
It means families whose relatives were buried earlier will have no room to hold memorial services since the burial spaces will have been taken over by other people.
This amounts to a serious social and cultural breach.
It also brings to the fore the many gaps in town and country planning which must be sealed to avoid such unfortunate occurrences.
Some of the deficiencies being witnessed today result from failure to plan for the future.
Local authorities should be able to take into account the rapidly growing population at the time they are allocating pieces of land for anything, including graveyards.
At times, it is not just the lack of land. The casual approach to serious matters in local authorities should be blamed for the mess.
Consider the case of Old Barn Cemetery in Choma where some people are being allowed to build houses near the graveyard, while others pass through it to access their homes.
The buildings being put up in the immediate vicinity of the graveyard have inarguably consumed the much needed burial space.
The proposal by Choma Municipal Council to negotiate with commercial farmers for land where another cemetery could be set up is good, but it will be a long process with legal implications.
This means people with nowhere to put their relatives to rest will have no choice but to continue desecrating the old graves.
The legal framework regarding the establishment and management of cemeteries in Zambia is provided for under the Public Health Act, Cap 295 and the Local Government Act, Cap 281 of the Laws of Zambia.
Section 91 (1) of the Public Health Act states that the Minister of Health shall select and appoint within Zambia, and notify in the Gazette, sufficient and proper places to be sites of, and to be used as, cemeteries.
The Local Government Act, under Part VII, Section 61 of the Act, mandates all local authorities to establish and maintain cemeteries.
It also states that it is the function of all local authorities in their areas of jurisdiction to establish and maintain cemeteries, crematoria and mortuaries, and otherwise to provide for and control the burial of the dead and destitute persons who die in the area of the council.
While it is understandable that cities like Lusaka are facing serious challenges of burial space because of the hugely expanded population, other councils in the country have themselves to blame for planning their towns and cities poorly.
It will, therefore, be necessary for the relevant authorities to examine the existing policy and legal framework governing the establishment and management of cemeteries in the country so that the right thing is done.
The Choma council is certainly not the only culprit. Take Ndola for example, where houses are springing up around Kawama Cemetery.
The cemetery will soon be choked, and the residents who bury their relatives at this low-cost graveyard will have to seek alternative places.
The local authorities countrywide should also take good care of cemeteries, some of which have dilapidated roads and the surroundings generally unkempt even if people pay for burial services.
Let the predicament in Choma serve as a lesson to other jurisdictions.