Here are some answers to those very important questions that you may want to ask, but either to emotionally drained through the loss of a loved one, or where you may not know who to ask. We hope that the following questions and answers are informative and that it will assist in making that very important decision.

Age at death analyses have revealed that not only more people are dying, but also that they are dying younger, with the largest percentage of deaths in the 21 – 30 years category. This is, however, expected to decrease over time, with more deaths in the 31 – 40 years category by 2009. It is estimated that the City of Johannesburg alone would need 1 500 hectares for burial grounds in the next 50 – 70 years. In addition to new burial grounds, families are encouraged to explore various burial options, with one of these being cremation.

In South Africa there are many cultural groups, and cremation is the normal method for Sikhs, Hindus, Parsees and Buddhists. However, it is forbidden by the Orthodox Jews and Moslems. Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, do allow cremations.


Q1. What is Cremation?

Answer: Cremation is the process by which a body is exposed to extreme heat, usually 800 - 1200 degrees Celsius for one and half to two hours or more, (depending on the size and weight of the body) which is the process where the body is reduced to its basic elements, which are referred to as the "cremated body" or "cremated remains". Cremation occurs at a crematorium in a special kind of furnace called a cremation chamber or retort. It may surprise many to learn that ashes are not the final result since cremated remains have neither the appearance nor the chemical properties of ashes. They are, in fact, bone fragments. These fragments are further reduced in size through a mechanical process. After preparation, these elements are placed in a temporary container that is suitable for transport. Depending upon the size of the body, there are normally 1.5kg to 4kg of fragments resulting.

Q2. What do cremated remains look like?

Answer: Cremated remains bear a resemblance to coarse sand and are pasty white in color. The remains of a normal size adult usually weighs between 1.5 and 2kg

Q3. How is a Cremation arranged?

Answer: The Cremation Regulations are still quite complicated and it is wisest to approach a funeral director immediately when a death occurs and advise them of your desire to arrange for a cremation. Please find our list of funeral directors who will be able to assist you. As there are a number of legal formalities with which one must comply, it is wisest to let the funeral director arrange for the completion of the statutory forms for cremation. If you are the executor or the next of kin, or are authorised by either to do so, you will be required to sign the statutory “Application for Cremation” before a Commissioner of Oath and they will help you with this. They will also assist you with all other funeral / memorial service arrangements which you can discuss with them at the same time

Q4. Is Cremation more expensive than burial?

Answer: No. Generally the cost of a grave is much higher than the fee charged for cremation. However, the funeral director’s charges are much the same for both services. The only additional charge for cremation arises when the death has not been referred to the Coroner, therefore a fee to two doctors have to be paid for the necessary certificates. This does not apply to burial. With a cremation there are no later costs for headstones, grave care etc which does arise with burial.

Q5. Are urns required to collect the cremated remains?

Answer: Law does not require an urn for the remains, nevertheless, an urn may be desired if there is to be a memorial service or the remains are to be interred in a cemetery. The tendency today is that one would like a “Keepsake” or “Momentum” to keep one’s loved ones close. There are many variations of beautiful Urns or Keepsakes available.These can vary from a wooden, ceramic, glass, brass etc. urns to a cremation pendant which can be distributed amongst the family, to a teddybear to keep your loved one close to your heart.

Q6. What options are available with the cremated remains?

Answer: Some options include remains being buried in a cemetery lot or at some churches (Wall of remembrance) or cremation garden (Garden of remembrance), in-urned in a columbarium, kept at home, or scattered into the sea.

Q7. Can I keep the cremated remains if I want to or must I dispose of them?

Answer: You may do what you wish with cremated remains and may keep them – we suggest having a look at our product range for the Keepsake Urns – there are also various other ideas in keeping a loved ones ashes, and we can offer various other alternative than just the ordinary urn. Discuss this with your funeral director or keep posted to our website for future alternatives

Q8. Do I sign anything else at this stage?

Answer: Apart from the agreement with the funeral director, which you should sign confirming your wishes for the funeral service, you will be asked how you wish to dispose of the ashes. If you know what you want at this stage, you will be asked to sign an authorisation for the crematorium to carry out the cremation. If, at this time you are undecided about the remains and what to do with it, discuss this with the funeral director as they often have the facility to store the ashes for up to one month to give you time to make a decision. The Crematorium will not retain cremated remains and these are returned to the funeral directors who organise the funeral service on your behalf. Alternatively and in 80% of the cases the cremated remains are buried in the *Gardens of Remembrance” at the Crematorium (*Gardens of remembrance consist of areas set aside for the disposal of cremated remains, should the family not wish to have these)

Q9. What religious ceremony can I have with a cremation, and/or must there be any religious ceremony?

Answer: A ceremony is not obligatory. A civic ceremony can be conducted or there may be none at all. On occasion a memorial service is conducted separately from the cremation ceremony. The service for burial and cremation is the same apart from the form of committal sentences and the service may take place in one’s own church or chapel with a short committal service in the crematorium chapel or the whole service may be conducted in the crematorium chapel. With some you may even arrange for your own minister to conduct the service. The form of service should be arranged with the minister and if hymns are to be sung at the crematorium, the organist should be advised in advance.

Q10. If I decide to have the service at the Crematorium, what happens on the day of the funeral?

Answer: The coffin is usually brought into the chapel followed by the mourners in procession. While it is being placed on the catafalque the mourners take their seats and the service proceeds. At the moment when the committal of the body takes place, the coffin is obscured from view by means of curtains closing across the catafalque. At the end of the service mourners leave the chapel

Q11. What happens to the coffin after committal?

Answer: It is withdrawn into a committal room where the name plate of the coffin is checked with the cremation order to ensure correct identity. The coffin is then marked with a card prepared by the crematorium giving all the relevant information. This card will stay with the body from now until the final disposal of the cremated remains.

Q12. Does the cremation take place immediately or are coffins stored up until a number are ready to be cremated?

Answer: Where possible the cremation will follow immediately after the service. The Code of Cremation Practice is adhered to by the staff of the Crematorium. It is required that the cremation shall take place within 24 hours of the service. However, there may be circumstances for the delay in cremation such as an autopsy or when all paperwork is not complete prior to the cremation.

Q13. Who gives permission for cremation to take Place?

Answer: Permission may only be given by a Medical Referee appointed by the crematorium authority. No cremation may take place without his/her authority. Before giving his/her authority, the Medical Referee must satisfy himself/herself that the deceased has been identified; that the primary cause of death has been established beyond doubt; and that the cremation is not contrary to the written wishes of the deceased. He/She normally relies on the Application for Cremation, together with the Medical Declaration from the doctor who attended the deceased in the final illness, as well as a Confirmatory Medical Declaration from a second doctor, who confirms the findings of the first doctor relating to the cause of death. Should the Medical Referee decline to authorize cremation, a private autopsy will be necessary, if you still desire cremation. We cannot overemphasize that it is in the interests of all concerned that the legal formalities be completed prior to the funeral taking place whether it be cremation or not.

Q14. How can one be certain that all remains are kept separate, and receive the correct remains?

Answer: As explained, each coffin is identified on arrival and the identity card is placed on the outside of the cremator as soon as the coffin is placed into it. The card stays there until the cremated remains are removed and it is then transferred to the cooling tray. The cremated remains then go into the preparation room and the card stays with them, finally being placed in the urn, which contains the prepared remains. As each cremator will only accept one coffin at a time, the cremated remains must be withdrawn before the cremator is used again and all cremation ashes are kept separate throughout the process. All responsible cremation providers have thorough operating policies and procedures in order to provide the highest level of service and reduce the possibility of human error.

Q15. Is more than one coffin cremated at one time in a cremator?

Answer: No and the only exceptions permitted to this rule are in the case of a mother and baby, or twin children when the next of kin requests that the two be cremated together.

Q16. Can more than one cremation be performed at once?

Answer: It is never done. Not only is it practical impossibility, but illegal to do so. The majority of modern cremation chambers are not of adequate size to house more than one adult.

Q17. How long does the cremation process normally last?

Answer: Approximately 90 to 120 minutes

Q18. Is the coffin cremated with the body or is a special casket required for the cremation to take place?

Answer: The Code requires that nothing must be removed from the coffin after it has been received from the chapel and it must be placed into the cremator exactly as received. If a special coffin was not used by the family, the body will be placed directly into a casket or alternative container as long as the construction is made of wood or cardboard and it is cremated with the body. So yes, the coffin or container is cremated with the body

Q19. What happens about the handles and other coffin fittings?

Answer: Crematorium regulations required that all coffin and fittings be manufactured from environmentally friendly materials. Normally the handles and name plate are today made of hard plastic. Ferrous nails and screws do not burn and stay with the cremated remains until they are withdrawn from the cremator when they are subjected to a magnetic field which removes them

Q20. What about precious and other metals?

Answer: The temperature at which a modern cremator operates (between 800 degrees C – 1200 degrees C) is such that such metals are fused with other material so that they are not recognisable. The Code of Practice states that any metallic material resulting from a cremation should be disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the cremation authority.

Q21. What would you recommend to people then about leaving items of jewellery on a body?

Answer: Jewellery should be removed after death unless it is intended to be cremated with the body. Once the coffin has been placed in the chapel there is no way of recovering such items. It is also advisable that the clothing for the deceased to be worn be given to the funeral directors prior to the body been laid to rest in the coffin

Q22. Can a cremation be witnessed by the family?

Answer: Yes, in most situations, the cremation providers will permit family members to be in attendances when the body is placed into the cremation chamber. Actually, a few religious groups include this as part of their funeral practice.

Q23. What usually happens after the cremation is finished?

Answer: When there is no further combustion taking place, the cremation is complete and the remains are withdrawn from the cremator into a cooling tray. All organic bone fragments and all non-consumed metal items are placed into a stainless steel cooling pan located in the back of the cremation chamber. All non-consumed items, such as metal from clothing, hip joints, and bridgework, are divided from the cremated remains. This separation is accomplished through visual inspection as well as using a strong magnet for smaller and minute metallic objects. Items such as dental gold and silver are non-recoverable and are commingled in with the cremated remains. Remaining bone fragments are then processed in a machine to a fine white ash and placed into a temporary or permanent urn, selected by the family.