Once an elegant, dignified, and well-maintained resting place for the dead, conditions and facilities at Warren Park Cemetery have deteriorated and prompted an outcry from concerned residents.
Pillars holding grave vaults have fallen, many graves and urn memorial plaques are damaged, and previously paved walking paths have crumbled. Litter is strewn about the place, in the Garden of Remembrance as well as between the graves where long grass and weeds abound. Only the privately tended lots are looking respectable, including that of the Greek community.
Moreover, according to Harare resident Terry Attwell, who has relatives buried at the cemetery, trees are being chopped down for firewood. “Wood is stored in the dilapidated chapel that was once a beautiful resting place to visit and a last place to bid farewell to loved ones,” he said. The chapel is now closed, and the windows, many of which are broken, are dark with dust.
Another resident, William Lay, whose grandmother is buried at the site bemoaned the lack of a functioning crematorium. “We believe it is imperative that the gas operated units at Warren Hills be refurbished as a matter of urgency.” Lay is also unhappy with the upkeep of the cemetery in general. “At the end of the day we all die, but our cemeteries are not the kinds of places most of us want to end up in,” he said.
Godfrey Munetsi heads up City Parks and Cemeteries for Harare City Council. Contradicting the residents and a visit to the cemetery by Harare News, he claims that the grounds are in alright shape, in spite of the financial difficulties plaguing his department.
“We are doing our best to maintain the crematorium in its best state. In fact, the grounds have been well kept,” said Munetsi. “The only challenge we have had over the years is that the units at the crematorium have broken down and the person who used to maintain them has since left for South Africa,” said Munetsi.
City Council is mandated to provide affordable and adequate burial space and cremation services to the public. Cremation services are particularly important because our ever-expanding graveyards will pose a space problem for future generations. The simple fact, is that in 100 years, Zimbabwe will need to have made space for the remains of more than 14 million people. Promoting cremation is a big challenge given the majority cultural and religious beliefs that favour burial to burning. It is even harder without an affordable public facility providing the service.
Michael Monson of Monson Funerals estimates that a crematorium needs ten bodies a day to achieve viability, which is a huge number for Zimbabwe given the cultural disinclination for burning. With tenders for refurbishment at Warren Hills as high as $300,000 the situation there is unlikely to change for some time. Families seeking cremation for their deceased must now turn to either of two private companies – Monson Funerals in Harare or a second in Mutare which, in line with Hindu practice, uses wood pyres instead of LPG gas.