“I have postponed the funeral for my three-year-old child,” says Thulani Ngcobo.
Ngcobo’s family is one of those who cannot get the bodies of their loved ones from the Fort Napier Medico Legal Mortuary in Pietermaritzburg. Workers from the mortuary went on a go-slow last week, demanding, among other things, an increase in wages.
Families from across the province have been told they must wait for the bodies of their relatives.
Ngcobo is from Ndwedwe location, north of Durban. His son Kwanda died on 1 October and the family was planning to bury the child last week.
“The workers said we won’t get the bodies. They have even told us that we might get the bodies next year,” said Ngcobo.
He said the families were suffering because the department of health would not pay attention to the workers’ demands.
“I’m already dealing with the loss of my son. Now this! What is happening is very sad. It is not our fault that they have problems with the department. I want to bury my son and deal with his death peacefully,” said Ngcobo.
Nomusa Msomi, the mother of Kwanda, said she can’t even mourn her son. She said workers had told her there were 31 bodies to attend to and “and my son’s body won’t be attended to any time soon”.
The workers are there but they are not working. They are on a go slow. I can’t describe how sad I am right now,” said Msomi.
When GroundUp visited Fort Napier hospital on Monday, more than 20 families were waiting at the mortuary. Women covered in blankets as a sign of mourning had come looking for answers.
Mandla Kunene from Camperdown in Nkanyezini said they had come for the body of his brother they had been planning to bury on Wednesday. He said he was not happy about the condition his brother was in, inside the mortuary.
“We were shocked and sad about the state of my brother. The mortuary fridges are not working. People are smelling in there. Their bodies are close to decomposing. There is blood everywhere. Some of the bodies are bleeding. Blood is visible on the floor. My brother’s body is bleeding and swollen,” he said.
Kunene said the family had even tried calling KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo. “He is not picking up our calls,” said Kunene. “People are waiting at home. The funeral cannot proceed without the body. We don’t know what to do or who to talk to about this.”
“They told me I might get my daughter next year, said Skotshi Kunene from Emtshezi. “She should have been buried last week. I have relatives from far places. They are already at home waiting for the funeral. The body of my daughter hasn’t been touched. Workers said there is nothing they can do until the department attends to their demands.”
“We are appealing to the department to urgently attend to this matter,” said Kunene.
Department spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said the department was aware of “disruptions to normal service delivery” at the mortuary. She said the national Department of Health was attending to issues raised by the workers.
Employees had been reminded that as workers in an essential service they were not allowed to strike, Mafunda said, and had been told to go back to work. The department would implement “a contingency strategy to mitigate the impact of disruptions to normal service delivery in this regard”.
COSATU provincial chairperson Skhumbuzo Mdlalose said the union was sensitive to the plight of the families affected. But, he said, workers were fighting for their rights, including payments for extra work which they had not received.
They also wanted protective clothing and better working conditions.
He said he had visited the mortuary on Monday and was shocked at its condition. “No person deserves to work under such conditions.”
“We have given Dhlomo until Friday to come to pay the workers their money he agreed he would pay. The government has made empty promises,” said Mdlalose.
Dhlomo visited the mortuary on Tuesday. He promised the families that they would be able to get the bodies of their loved ones.
He had asked the department to apply for a court interdict to get the workers out of the premises or back to work. Meanwhile, if necessary, bodies would be taken to other mortuaries, said Dhlomo.