LIFE AMONG THE DEAD, PIETERMARITZBURG SOUTH AFRICA
Clouds skid low over this place, brooding over the fields of the dead. Mountain Rise Cemetery, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa is a place where simple wood crosses stand in lieu of their final claims.
‘Bread cutters’ are the rugged brush cutters operated by men and woman dressed in black. fitted with a mask and gloves they scythe their way through the grass that covers the grave markers and wooden crosses.
The pastors and ladies of the church sway in tune with the songs of departing. Grandmothers and small children stand and watch the casket of one who should have be shouldering the dead. Instead he is lowered into his own fresh grave. Between these young and old, there are those who sell ice cream. Others parade in the latest fashions and watch the ongoing ceremony of the dead.
Rocks and clumps of grass are placed on the filled grave. A number is placed at the foot of the grave, the cross carries the name, age and date of the one who has just joined the many in this place.
A young woman leads her grandmother across the field she looks for the place that her mother lies, picking weeds away from the soil that covers the spot she makes thing as best as she can and waits for the old woman to finish her prayers. The old woman will be walked away and the cutters will be kings and queens of this place once again.
Clouds form a back drop against which birds rise up out of the long grass, they lift up into the sky with songs of life, they are not of this dead, yet they are the dead’s only hope of retaining a simple celebration of life in this place.
(Author’s note. Though Pietermaritzburg is recognised as an epicentre of global HIV infection, and though there are now over 30 undertakers operating in the city, due to a lack of concrete medical records is is unlikely that anybody will ever really know who was in the end a victim of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.)