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Can’t find the grave? There’s an app for that

Lebone Mano
By Lebone Mano, junior journalist
Johannesburg, 22 Oct 2019
Motsepe Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela, the man behind the grave-finder app, Zist.
Motsepe Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela, the man behind the grave-finder app, Zist.

“I always have a problem finding my grandmother’s grave. She has a tombstone, but I still have to use a tree as a landmark,” says researcher Motsepe Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela. His grandmother is buried in the Lenasia Cemetery.

This search for her grave inspired him to create Zist, a ‘grave locator’ app.

In African societies, the deceased are considered to be the bridge between God and the living, so visiting the graves of late relatives is a big part of traditional life.

But as municipal cemeteries continue filling up, it’s becoming harder to find a loved one’s grave.

Thabo Mpotje, a senior administrator at undertaker Chomane Funeral Services in Soweto, thinks the app could be useful. He says families often come into the office looking for a grave or a section number.

“But with the amount of work that goes on in our office, you may find that the information was not recorded in the log book.”

 Municipal offices at cemeteries are also sometimes unable to help; many of their systems are manual, and it’s hard to keep track of entries, adds Mpotje.

 No laughing matter

 ‘Zist’ has no meaning, says Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela, other than this was the name ‘that stuck’.

“We were going to go with ‘amathuna’, (the isiZulu word for graves) but that would just alienate part of our potential market, as the app doesn’t only solve a South African problem.”

Zist also connects users with service providers such as caterers, undertakers and videographers, who pay to advertise on the platform. Along with funeral notices, you can also post an unveiling notice and post about an ‘after-tears’ party.

The app development was done by Hayden George, a freelancer. “When I first approached him about the idea, he laughed it off. He said it’s never been done before… One week later, he was back. He wanted to hear more,” says Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela.

The idea is not new, though. There’s the global, as well as According to Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela, what sets Zist apart is that while these Web sites may help find graves, they don’t supply the grave’s location.

Zist includes all the municipal cemeteries in the country. Motsegoa Wa Kwa Ncobela says his team has already begun capturing the names and locations of graves in a number of cemeteries in the country. It’s also hoped that people will tag the location of their loved ones’ graves.

“Reception of the app has been phenomenal, but it’s still a work in progress,” he says.

Mpotje adds: “If we could just introduce families to Zist, they could capture the location themselves… And they could stop coming to us for it.”

 Zist is available on Android, coming soon to iOS.