Undertaker hits dead end over costly corpse storage
He says he has preserved a body for four years because the municipality won't cough up
Every Monday for the past four years, funeral parlour owner Siphiwe Mchunu has had the grisly task of injecting chemicals into a decomposing corpse to preserve it.
“This has messed with me physically and mentally. That body has become a part of me, a part of Mchunu Funeral Parlour,” he said.
Mchunu, from Ladysmith in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has kept the body of an unidentified woman in his mortuary since 2014, awaiting payment from the Uthukela Municipality for its storage.
Mchunu came into possession of the Jane Doe, believed to be in her late 20s at the time, after her “boyfriend” made contact.
“He had reported her death to police, who gave him the go-ahead to call any funeral parlour. The woman had apparently just collapsed and died. The man had no details for the woman and, unfortunately, a week later the boyfriend died. We have been unable to trace any next of kin,” said Mchunu.
Mchunu told the Sunday Times in 2016 that he was seeking R400,000 from the municipality, but now says the price has escalated to close to a R1m. He said the chemicals he uses for the body cost nearly R7,000 a month.
“I have submitted everything they (the municipality) have asked me to submit, I have even spent money going to Limpopo to learn how to embalm the body, but they have been giving me the runaround.”
However, the municipality is adamant it doesn’t owe Mchunu any money. It claims the police tried to take the body to the state mortuary but Mchunu had refused.
“We as the municipality come in at the end of the process. SAPS is supposed to fetch the body from him and take it to the state mortuary where the body is then identified as unknown or as a pauper,” said Uthukela Municipality’s legal manager, Sibusiso Shezi.
Shezi said they had not given Mchunu any indication that they would pay him.
Mchunu said he would be willing to give up the body but that he was now planning to sue the municipality.
“All I want is a written affidavit stating who takes the body from me so that I can pursue legal action at a later stage,” he said.
Provincial Democratic Alliance leader Zwakele Mncwango visited Mchunu’s mortuary on Tuesday and said he would escalate the matter.
“All government institutions have failed the deceased. From what I hear now (from the municipality) the department of safety and security are aware of this issue. The only way forward now is to get the premier to account and tell us what will be done moving forward, because this blame game does not help anyone,” he said.
“I feel more sorry for the family of the deceased because if our institutions did their jobs surely we would have known the identity of the person. It’s clear that the police knew about this matter from the beginning but failed to assist,” he added.
SAPS Ladysmith acting station commander Colonel Trevor Mngadi said although he was aware of the situation with the body lying in the morgue for four years, he was new to the office. He said he hadn’t dealt with the matter directly so could not offer information about it.
“If I was in charge at the time maybe I would have done things differently. I would have opened an inquest docket regarding this issue to try find the family of the deceased,” said Mngadi.