The ongoing strike by workers across mortuaries in Gauteng has put the brakes on the release of postmortem results and burials. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - Elliot Jxubane waited for two weeks. Every time he has asked, he has been told that the body of his wife Selinah would be returned to him once a post-mortem had been performed.

“They haven’t told us when they are going to do the post-mortem. If they can’t do it, I won’t have peace,” he said.

Selinah died on June 3 at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic hospital from complications after an accident in February. Her body is one of between 200 and 250 that are affected by a backlog in mortuaries across Gauteng caused by the forensic pathologists' strike.

The worse affected are the Germiston, Diepkloof and Hillbrow mortuaries.

The Gauteng department of health says it's working at whittling down the backlog with the assistance of the South African National Defence Force and the University of Wits Anatomy Department.

The department's spokesperson, Khutso Rabothata, said they would work through the long weekend. “They will be working on urgent priority cases and according to the records,” he said.

Rabothata added that families could phone the mortuaries for updates.

Jxubane and Selinah were married last November. On February 26, Selinah, 35, was hit by a car and taken to the ICU. She was there for three weeks, before being transferred to a general ward. She died at 7.15pm on June 3.

Another family did finally receive the body of their loved one from the Germiston mortuary after a week of waiting.

The body of Colleen Duister's three-year-old daughter, Timia, was handed to her at 10pm on Thursday night. Timia was buried in Benoni on Friday.

For the entire week, Duister had waited outside the Germiston mortuary from 7am to 10pm, in the hope of receiving her child’s body.

"The funeral was planned for Sunday, then we had to postpone for Wednesday, but then I didn’t receive the body. I am very disappointed in them,” Duister said.

She will only find out this week what her daughter died from. “All I know is that she was sick.”

Others families are also waiting to bury their loved ones. “There are more than 200 families who need to bury their loved ones. That is thousands of people,” said Jack Bloom, the DA Gauteng shadow MEC for health.

Bloom said the department of health needed to do more to clear the backlog. The SANDF had only deployed 10 personnel. But Rabothata said that this was the number the defence force could spare.

The department of health averted a similar strike in December when they got a court order against the strikers.

Bloom called on the department of health to work with other local government departments, including the police, to deal with the strike.

The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospera) said the strike is about the duties that forensic pathology officers have to perform, which they say is beyond their scope of work. This includes doing jobs they claim should be performed by trained forensic pathologists.

Rabothata said discussions with the union would continue next week.

Saturday Star