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South African AIDS toll forcing funeral costs rethink

The money poor people spend on funerals is of growing concern to church leaders in South Africa, where the AIDS pandemic has left many families burying two or three members a year.

"There is enormous pressure on people to lay on expensive funerals, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for them to cope," said Bishop Kevin Dowling, who represents the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference in its Pretoria-based AIDS department.

The widespread South African tradition of providing meals for extended family members and friends and paying for their transport to the place of burial can put families into a burden of debt "that they spend years trying to pay off," he said.

The bereaved are also open to exploitation by undertakers and others involved in the funeral process, he said.

"While funerals are an important part of the social fabric and personal relationships are critical in terms of support, doing things in this way entails tremendous expenditure," Bishop Dowling said.

"We need to create awareness" of the dangers of "spending far beyond your means" in an attempt to live up to unrealistic expectations, as well as "the need to focus on the quality of life of the living," he said.

The number of people dying of AIDS "will force a rethink on funerals," Bishop Dowling said, noting that the short time between funerals within many families "brings great hardship."

In South Africa, churches concerned about amount spent on funerals (Catholic News Service 31/8/04)

Catholic Church Gives R16 million to fight HIV/AIDS (Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference 11/8/04)
Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference | HIV and AIDS Office

2 Sep 2004