Extending recognition of indigenous burial practices in Selomo v Doman 2014 JDR 0780 (LCC)
Burying deceased family members in familial gravesites close to the homestead of the living has been a well-established practice in Southern Africa for many centuries. In terms of indigenous cultural and religious norms proximate burials are essential for enabling ancestors to commune amongst themselves and with their living descendants. In the colonial and apartheid eras many African communities lost ownership of their land. One of the consequences was that they needed permission from white landowners to continue with burials in established gravesites. In the democratic era the legislature sought to reintroduce a burial right for rural black land occupiers. Section 6(2)(dA) of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 allowed occupiers to assert a right of familial burial as against landowners, provided certain conditions were met. In Selomo v Doman 2014 JDR 0780 (LCC) Spilg J permitted a burial despite the fact that the applicant and deceased had not been resident near their family gravesite for many years. In our analysis of the judgment we suggest that the court's attempts to find justification in the Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 and the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996 were misconstrued. With proximate familial burials being essentially a matter of respect for dignity and indigenous culture, the court should have engaged in a deeper analysis of constitutional rights.
Keywords: African burial practices; rural land occupation rights.