In many countries in Africa, death has become a very lucrative business. Surprising as it may seem, it is rapidly becoming a status symbol among some African communities, as bling is the name of the day, and lavish expense marks the importance of the day.
In South Africa, the whole affair of death can set families spiralling into debt as they struggle to finance a lavish send off to their loved one. Is it wrong to want to send the dead of well you ask? I think that there is a difference between a good send off, and going over the top.
A survey in 2004 conducted throughout South Africa found that people spent more time at funerals than at weddings or even in the hair salon. Conspicuous consumption is very defiantly the order of service at an African funeral these days.
The BBC interviewed Molefi Kupane, who runs one of the biggest funeral parlours in Johannesburg recently and he told of the flamboyant funerals that people organise through his company. Indicating that he does as many as 40 funerals every Saturday, he told the BBC that he regularly see’s people spending far beyond their means on expensive caskets, colourful services, extravagant parties and days of catering for mourners as they come to pay their respects.
It would seem that when it comes to a funeral in Joburg, it’s all systems go. The modern trend is to arrive in the most expensive cars, wear designer clothing, the coolest jewellery, the brightest colours. Gone are the days of quiet, sombre affairs where everyone is dressed in black, and all the mourners maintain a silent respect. In the 21st Century, it’s all about the image. As long as you are turned out in the height of fashion, and the funeral meets with the high standard of expectations, then vogue has been fulfilled at the grave side.
As the posing finishes at the cemetery, expect a massive meal served with desert and a plentiful supply of drink, and then get ready for the ‘After Tears’ party to swing into action as the pouting and swagger moves onto the dance floor, and the hangover is topped up with yet more copious amounts of alcohol.
But South Africa is not the only African nation cashing in on this quickly developing new trend. Business Daily Africa reports that in Kenya the same trend is making entrepreneurs a small fortune. Speaking with Eunice Kitata of Euphrace Events and Catering in Nyanza, the Business Daily reports that Ms Kitata saw an opportunity in the market as she was tasked to help organise a funeral for a member of their church. A lack of professional event managers and decent catering firms left an opportunity for her to move into what has become a very lucrative business for her and her young family.
Now employing 15 people, and earning in excess of half a million Shillings a month, Ms Kitata has built a successful venture bringing calm order and efficient management of an emotionally charged and often confusing time for the families of the deceased, and has also successfully forged a niche with the Kenyan diaspora on the repatriation of Kenyans who die abroad. But even Ms Kitata admits that funerals have become a complex and expensive thing for African people. From the time the bull must be slaughtered to who should be served in which order, the challenges of making the funeral day perfect are as important today as the role played by a traditional wedding planner.
Opportunity lies at the door of whomever is brave enough to open it and take a chance. Africa proves that even in death there is an opportunity to make it big, even if it is just you making sure that you attend in the finest suite or the most expensive frock. Yogi Berra, a former American baseball player once said: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Wise words to the venture capitalists in Africa’s newest growth industry.