Funeral parlour strike: Bodies pile up in hospitals as protests continue

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The second day of a nationwide funeral parlour strike saw bodies begin piling up in both private and public hospitals, with the National Funeral Practitioners’ Association (Nafupa)  and the Unification Task Team (UTT) continuing their shutdown efforts in an attempt to get government’s attention. 

One such action on Tuesday 15 September was to ambush a hearse carrying out funeral business in Ekurhuleni. 

Government have said that practitioners are welcome to discuss their grievances with them, and Nafupa have claimed that the state is open to allowing several of their demands, including recognising and making legal the outsourcing of mortuary services. 

 

UNDERTAKERS ‘AMBUSHED’ BY UTT  

If you thought you had had a bad morning, this account from two Ekurhuleni undertakers may give you a bit of perspective. 

The Sowetan reported on Tuesday that an Avbob hearse driver was left “shaken and upset” after members of the UTT – which consists of a collective of 17 funeral associations – descended on him and his assistant as they were collecting a body from a home in Etwata. 

The two men feared the worst when they saw the “mob’ coming towards them, demanding that they cease and desist from their undertaker duties. 

“I thought the worst was going to happen because I knew there was strike but my boss ignored that and instructed me and my colleague Joe Bezuidenhout [to fetch the body] and we got in trouble.” 

The pair were then told to drive with members of the UTT to the Springs mortuary where they would offload the body and discontinue their service for the day. They were “released” four hours later. 

 

“We ambushed the driver and his assistant to the Springs Pathology Services to forcefully hand over the body to the government mortuary,” said UTT representative in Ekurhuleni Steven Fofo Mnguni. 

“Our guys remained on standby and waited in a specified area and indeed caught the hearse red-handed.

BODIES ‘PILING UP’ AS FUNERAL PARLOUR STRIKE CONTINUES

Nafupa president Muzi Hlengwa said on Tuesday that the number of bodies piling up in government facilities is putting the Department under pressure to engage with them about their grievances. 

“Government mortuaries were overwhelmed with the number of bodies that they received yesterday and it has pressed the department of health to come up with answers on the same day of the strike,” he said. 

“They have  agreed to all our demands including that certificates of competence should not be used as a prerequisite when collecting the body anywhere and small companies should be allowed to come together and share the certificates of competence, and that outsourcing of storage should be allowed.”

Numsa Investment Company CEO Khandani Msibi told eNCA that the only way a resolution can be achieved is if the state make changes to existing policy. 

“It’s a very difficult situation for the country and for those that unfortunately lost loved ones. We don’t think there’s much that the community can do, or the funeral undertakers that are participating in the strike. It requires that the state intervene.” 

“it’s a matter that requires law enforcement, because the country does not have too much storage capacity. Human remains that are not taken care of could result in a crisis for the country.” 

FUNERAL PRACTITIONERS AWARE OF INCONVENIENCE BEING CAUSED 

Speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, Hloni Swarts, the owner of Hloni Funerals in Gauteng said that he understands that clients and loved ones of recently deceased people would be frustrated by the action, but said that the practitioner’s hands are tied. 

“It’s not a nice thing to sit with a body at home, even for more than two hours,” he said. “But imagine sitting with a body for three days at home. Imagine that, what will happen to the body.” 

He said that he and the other 1 000 members of Napusa who were striking were also angry about the situation, and insisted that the fight was with government, not the bereaved families.  

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