‘Bodies are piling up’: E Cape funeral parlours plead for help

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‘Bodies are piling up’: E Cape funeral parlours plead for help

As the Covid-19 corpses stream in they blame the burial backlog on a delay in issuing death certificates

Sandiso Phaliso
Image: File

Funeral parlours in the Eastern Cape are struggling to cope with the influx of corpses as Covid-19 sweeps through the province.

Desperate parlour owners are appealing to premier Oscar Mabuyane to help ease the backlog. They say as quickly as they bury people, more corpses arrive, reports DispatchLIVE.

The owners attribute the backlog to delays in death certificates being signed off, without which bodies cannot be released to families for burial or cremation.

The lockdown closure of home affairs offices has not helped, they argue, although the department denies this.

South African Funeral Parlour Association (Safpa) secretary Khanya Maxathana said owners had written to Mabuyane and the department asking them to come up with a plan whereby corpses could be buried within three days, rather than the current five days.

Maxathana said parlours were unable to bury the dead without death certificates.

“The date of the funeral is determined by the day the death certificate is issued. We wrote to home affairs and asked that there be a specific queue that deals with death certificates so that the process can be fast-tracked, but we never got a reply.

“The death rate is very high. We are not allowed to bury a person without a death certificate, because we are wary of insurance fraud. All over the Eastern Cape bodies are piling up. Also, families are traumatised because sometimes it takes a while to bury their loved one.”

The delays, according to Maxathana, could last weeks.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) recommends that the dead should be cremated. Failing that, burials should follow strict procedures. Authorities say only when the death toll is “very high” should corpses be buried within three days.

Maxathana said her association was ready to work hand in hand with the government.

“We have asked our employees not to embark on a strike and to be patient, hoping that the government will do all it can to hear our plight,” she said.

Speaking to SABC radio on Wednesday, Mabuyane said mortuary owners were complaining that morgues were full. He said the owners suggested to him that a Covid-positive corpse should be buried by the third day, rather than the current three-to-five-day period as per the regulations.

Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, said the premier would talk to the funeral parlour sector. 

“Remember that besides Covid-19 there are daily deaths. Both Covid-19 deaths and deaths not related to Covid-19 require mortuaries,” he said.

“What [Mabuyane’s] remarks focused on is to show the extent of the problem and what could happen if the people of our province don’t adhere to prevention and lockdown regulations.

“Mortuaries have guidelines for burying people who die. When numbers reach the proportions we have seen in other countries, councils even run out of land for graveyards.”

Asked whether Mabuyane would forward the parlours’ complaints to the national coronavirus command council, Sicwetsha said: “Government is encouraging the sector to work with families in all they do to ensure dignified send-offs for their loved ones. At this stage we will not take this to the national command council.”

Gcinile Mabulu, the provincial spokesperson for the department of home affairs, denied that it took a long time for death certificates to be issued.

“Once a client presents proper documentation at the office counter, falling into a specially designated queue for death registration, a death certificate is readily issued to the client,” he said.

“Death registration is a client-official indulgence taking place over the counter. One does not post documents through to home affairs and [await] a response. For this reason, as encapsulated above, there is no time delay, as inferred, except at falling in a queue, awaiting one’s turn. Once at the counter, the process flows and the client leaves the office at once with a certificate.”

Bongani Mahlakahlaka, manager of Amagasela Funeral Directors in King William’s Town, said: “We are pushing that we stick to the 72 hours when we receive the body until it is buried. But with delays from hospitals and home affairs, this does not happen, it takes longer.”

Vumile Tsuluka of Tsuluka Funerals in Cofimvaba said in some instances there were families who refused to bury within the stipulated time frame because the test results of the deceased were not yet ready and there was therefore no proof that they were infected.

“Awareness is needed for families to understand the regulations,” said Tsuluka.

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