It is an offence to disturb any buried human remains without first obtaining the necessary lawful permissions. This applies to both full coffin burials and burial of cremated remains.
Reasons for exhuming a body
You can only ask for an exhumation:
- to move a body the original grave to a family plot bought after the interment
- to repatriate the body overseas for burial to with other family members
- to transfer a body from a cemetery scheduled for development to another
- where there is a court order requiring further forensic examination
You need to get a licence from the Department of Constitutional Affairs to exhume a body or cremated remains.
If the body is in consecrated grounds, you will need to get permission from the church and pay any fees.
Decency and safety
An Environmental Health Officer must be present at the exhumation. They will supervise the event to maintain and protect public health including:
- maintaining the health and safety of all workers through the use of protective clothing, task lights and all other necessary equipment
- checking the transfer of all human remains and all the pieces of casket to the new the new casket
- making sure the new casket is appropriate
- checking the seal on the new casket
- supervising the disinfecting of the area of exhumation
The Environmental Health Officer will also oversee the process:
- starting the exhumation as early as possible in the morning to maintain privacy
- making sure the exhumation is for the correct grave
- checking the nameplate on the casket matches the one on the licence
- making sure screening is in place to maintain privacy
- making sure everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to adjoining graves
- checking the onward transport arrangements for the remains
If the conditions of the licence cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation will not take place.