It is a case of the living moving in with the dead. What else can they do?

According to the New Vision report, their dwellings on the cemetery land are illegal and they pose serious health issues yet the cemetery dwellers attempt to lead ordinary lives in the unusual setting.

“You’re afraid you’re going to dig up a bone,” said 19-year-old Emile as he worked on the foundation for his older brother’s new house just steps away from a well-tended grave.

Neighbour Bibiche, 23, admits it’s a disturbing experience even after having lived in the cemetery for two years.

“You feel afraid sleeping amidst the graves, but we had no home,” she said. “The cemetery isn’t good, we have no electricity.”

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Despite its vast mineral wealth, two-thirds of the DR Congo’s 68 million people live in poverty, made worse by continuous civil wars that tore up the country from 1996 to 2003 and left a myriad of rebel groups still terrorising the eastern provinces.

Finding housing or property is a constant struggle for many and large numbers of civilians have take to living beside the dead.

Even with the inconvenience of living illegally on land reserved for the deceased, it does not come free. Therese, 57, a long-time resident paid a local chief to buy four ‘plots’ with the assistance of her children. ”They cost between $2,500 to $4,000 each,” she said, giving only her first name like the other residents for fear of reprisals.

In some parts of the cemetery the construction of homes has made it harder to locate remaining burial plots. The graveyard was founded in 1978 and is the final resting place of several well-known figures, such as engineer Sita Barnabe Kinsumbu, the father of the DRC’s first lady Olive Lembe Kabila, according to a local burial tax collector.

DR Cong President and First Lady Joseph and Olive Kabila. The First Lady's father lives in the dwellings around Kinsuka. Photo: Jamie Mitchell

DR Cong President and First Lady Joseph and Olive Kabila. The First Lady’s father is buried in Kinsuka. Photo: Jamie Mitchell

Government officials say the homes in Kinsuka and other cemeteries across the country constitute a public health hazard. According to them, it takes as long as 50 years after a site’s last burial to ensure the ground is fully free of contamination. ”Sometimes people find a source of water but when you sniff it, it smells like a corpse,” said Dr Benjamin Mavard Kwengani, director of hygiene at Kinshasa’s health ministry.

“One day, a (state) tractor is going to come and knock down the houses and they will lose everything,” said Peter, a resident whose father and grandfather are buried in Kinsuka.