An ethical assessment of current death disposal beliefs, attitudes and practices in Gaborone’s Ledumang ward in Botswana.

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Matende, Wedu
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The University of Zambia
Death disposal is the process of dealing with the physical remains of the dead person. It is the act of getting rid of the body before decomposing and starting to emit foul odour that can affect the people around it. Gaborone city, in which Ledumang Ward is situated and is the subject of the case study, was planned for a small population, but has seen an exponential growth in human population and settlements over the last fifty (50) years such that residential areas and cemeteries are placed close to each other presenting a possible risk of cemetery pollution to the health of the human environment, human beings and other living organisms, especially so given the persistence in traditional and Christian beliefs of the people that support attachment to practices of burying the dead. In view of this belief, this study aimed to make an ethical assessment of current death disposal beliefs, attitudes and practices in Botswana with specific reference to Ledumang ward in Gaborone. The objectives of the study were (1) to investigate the current attitudes and practices of people in Ledumang ward with regards to death disposal; (2) to examine if there is evidence of a growing tension between religious beliefs towards death disposal practices and environmental degradation, and (3) to make an ethical evaluation of the findings. The research was a case study which employed the use of qualitative methodology with an ethical component. Primary data was collected using semi-structured interviews with 30 householders, in-depth interviews with 12 key informants with important knowledge of the body disposal attitudes, beliefs, and practices in Ledumang. The study therefore had a total sample size of 42 participants. Observations of the funerals and the cemetery also took place. Qualitative analysis of the data collected involved description, explanation and interpretation. The land ethic was used in the theoretical framework and applied to the findings for ethical evaluation. Secondary data was collected from relevant books and journal articles. The findings of the study revealed that burial is still the most common method of death disposal practiced in Ledumang. People are generally not receptive to other forms of disposal due to their traditional and Christian beliefs as the majority of people in Botswana (79.3%) are Christian. The findings relating to the first objective were as follows: (a) burial allows mourning of a loved one, provides a permanent resting place to the deceased, helps with the grieving process, supports religious and traditional beliefs, and acts as a sign of remembrance. People also consider the cemetery to be a source of employment; (b) all the householders were against cremation because they felt it is disrespectful to the body, does not allow for resurrection, is traumatic to the bereaved, does not provide a chance to say goodbye to loved ones, and because it is against their culture. According to the findings, there is no evidence of a major shift between religious beliefs to death disposal practices and environmental degradation, despite the fact that the practices are harmful to the environment. On the other hand, the current burial method can have negative effects on the environment in various ways: by polluting the air, by the use of the embalming liquid and the materials used in the coffins which result in contaminating underground water, by resulting in deforestation and loss of biodiversity, by defacing the natural beauty of the environment and by increasing the shortage of land available for the living; (c) with regard to the third objective, the application of the land ethic to the findings concluded that the way bodies are processed and buried is morally problematic. The study recommended the following measures: (i) revision of the waste management policy to include body disposal; (ii) Gaborone City Council to sensitise the community of Gaborone on the negative effects of the burial methods on the environment; (iii) to raise the level of awareness of residents of Gaborone on the negative environmental impacts of Ledumang cemetery and (iv) to raise awareness about alternative methods of disposing of the dead that are more eco-friendly.
Master of Arts in Applied Ethics.
Death--Religious aspects--Botswana. , Body disposal beliefs. , Death--Social aspects. , Death--Psychological aspects. , Bereavement. , Death disposal--Disposal practices. , Burial Practices--Ethics.