today, tomorrow and beyond.
John Graveyard Innovations (Pty) Ltd is a one-stop company offering funerals, tombstones and statues. Named after the late Prof John Sigidi, the company was to honour and take forward the good work and innovations introduced by the late Prof John Sigidi.
Since its formation in 2013, John Graveyard Innovations grew from one office in Chiawelo (Soweto) to add 8 more branches around the country. The company currently operates in Gauteng (Pretoria, Soweto and Kempton Park), Limpopo Venda – Dopeni and Thohoyandou), KZN (Durban – Glen Anil and Kwamashu) and Eastern Cape (East London)
today, tomorrow and beyond.
Ramaano John Sigidi (“John”) was born at Lwamondo on April 4, 1949 to Lydia and Edward Sigidi. At school he dug pit latrines and thatched roofs for pocket money. He also learnt to build and eventually went to a trade school, where he learnt bricklaying and a bit of architecture. He started a building contractor’s business and built a number of schools, clinics and police stations. He was recruited to work for the government as an artisan and foreman to groups of builders in public works – way before the tender processes of today.
Grave construction: When his grandmother, Luvhengo, and his father, Edward, died in 1964 and 1975 respectively and John was not happy about the way they were buried. There was not even a single coffin for them but he told himself that he needed to do something about the situation. When his mother passed away in 1990, John gave her an unusual funeral. He constructed a very attractive grave for her and people started inviting him to construct graves for them.
Erect a tombstone before burial: By 1993, he had perfected his art and registered the funeral undertaking company. He then resigned from his job as a builder and ventured into the funeral undertaking industry. He started putting tombstones on the graves on the same day as the funeral. This meant the service could be much longer as you also had to include the unveiling of the tombstone. He cut the tombstones on site, which meant customers could design their own shapes and not just the message.
A few problems arose. The first was how to do this in a short time, as people could not stand in the Limpopo sun for too long. John built the inside of the grave during the week and put in all the other parts of the tombstone before the funeral on Friday.
The second problem was the Lutheran Church, which decreed that it was heresy to build and unveil a tombstone on the day of the funeral. But the church members were the ones flocking to John for this service, and by the time he was running a fully-fledged undertaker business, he would bury up to 60 people over a weekend.
Priests of the Lutheran Church would conduct their service and leave. John was confronted by his priest and told he should stop, but he persisted. Today, Lutheran priests still refuse to unveil but allow for the erection of a tombstone as long as it is not covered and unveiled. They no longer leave.
Share a grave and tombstone: John also made history by exhuming the remains of 14 of his late family members and reburying them in one place on the same day. This is one of the most amazing initiatives ever done by a single individual locally. The reburial took place on Human Rights Day, at a special yard, Fulufhelo Lashu Bono Lashu Cemetery. What is also interesting is that the remains of two individuals were reburied in each divided grave, with only one headstone, bearing the names of the two deceased. This means that only seven graves were prepared for the remains of the 14 people.
John has constructed more than 100 graves that would be used by his family in the same yard. He exhumed 10 of his beloved ones at Lwamondo Tshivhuyu and the remaining four were from Matatani.
When asked what compelled him to take the unusual initiative, John said:
I just thought it would be far better to rebury them in one place, because relatives can see their final resting places without any difficulty. Besides that, it is also difficult to take care of the graves that are scattered in different places. This type of burial saves time and money. It also saves the land because I can bury 100 people on a small piece of land which could be used to bury 15 people in the normal graveyards. His latest innovation, to deal with the ability of the bereaved to view proceedings well, is the removable stand, which accommodates about 20-30 people sitting in a stadium pattern.